More than half a century after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream Speech” in Washington D.C., his words resonate more than ever, a timeless creed of indignation and hope. We embrace his words as constant reminders of some things in the past we must tear ourselves from and a future we cannot totally see.
Dr. King’s speech, in soaring rhetoric, was expert testimony of the great need for dramatic public health, judicious and societal reform as he spoke of a country that included the “lonely island of poverty” and the “unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
As he stood Aug. 28, 1963 in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King talked of what we were as a nation, what we said we were supposed to be, and the sharp distance between the two.
Today, we have made much progress since Dr. King’s speech, indeed, through a vast array of federal regulation and civil action over the years, leading to education and housing opportunities unheard of in 1963, environmental and judicial reforms, in a society with improved overall health.
But we have a long way to go. As we battle a paralyzing Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. King’s words constantly ring in our ears, his stirring voice echo in our hearts. Fifty-seven years after Dr. King’s speech, police brutality still haunts with the slaying three months ago in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African-American man killed at the hands of a white police officer. It haunts again, repeatedly. On Aug. 23, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back after he walked away from officers, in Kenosha, Wis. It unleashed anger in the streets and a vast call for change through peaceful protests, the kind that Dr. King so often led. Police violence, often an outgrowth of racial profiling and structured racism, epitomizes a public health crisis.
Poverty, too, is relentless in its reach today among Blacks and other minorities with racial disparities, too often prevalent in housing, jobs and income, with its resulting widespread impact on public health.
Since Dr. King’s speech, there have been great political strides in much of American society. With Barack Obama, a Black man became president of the United States. With Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as former Vice-President Joe Biden’s running mate in the upcoming Presidential race, there is a woman who is Black and South Asian-American running for Vice-President.
Yet Black voters face many obstacles in their hope of registering to vote, the unavailability of voting centers at a time of COVID-19, or even having their mail-in ballots counted. As we have been overwhelmed by the pandemic, it has been more severe in Black and Hispanic communities, related to a host of factors, including housing and especially working conditions leaving them more exposed to the virus, and a public health threat.
Dr. King talked of the Declaration of Independence as the “promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” King said. “It is obvious today, that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”
Dr. King said that Black Americans and others were still waiting to “cash a check.” In some ways, they still are.
We must march ahead for justice, he said.
Today, many are gathered near the Lincoln Memorial for “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.”
It is no time to turn back. – Joe Cantlupe, Health Data Buzz