Dr. Ernest Levister
It was a stunning vision of racial equality, manifested in a simple yet stirring mantra: “I have a dream.” Though Martin Luther King Jr.’s cherished utopia has not arrived, it seems considerably less remote than it did in August 1963 when, from the Washington Mall, King challenged America to make his dream come true. African-Americans are no longer relegated, as he lamented, to “a lonely island of poverty” in the midst of plenty. By a wide array of measures, despite the many voices that try to convince us otherwise, on the event of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 89th birthday, Black America is still relevant and moving forward.
Black employment and home ownership are up. HIV/AIDS, diabetes, obesity and family annihilating drug addiction are slowly leveling off. Murders and other violent crimes are gradually decreasing. Reading and math proficiency are climbing. Out-of-wedlock births are at their lowest rate in decades. Fewer Blacks are on welfare than at any point in recent memory. More Black children are in college than at any point in history. And the percentage of Black families living below the poverty line is the lowest it has been since the Census Bureau began keeping separate Black poverty statistics in 1967. Even for some of the most persistently unfortunate–uneducated Black men between 16 and 24–jobs are opening up, according to recent government studies.
More and more Blacks have entered the realm of the privileged and have offices in (or tantalizingly near to) the corridors of corporate and political power. The rise of Black voices in entertainment, education and politics is worth noting. Voices like the venerable Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, Senator Kamala Harris, D-California and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and yes, President Barack Obama were unthinkable 50 years ago. More Black Americans control multimillion-dollar budgets and reside in luxurious gated communities. Black families are, by any criteria, more healthy, educated and yes, hopeful.
The good news on Black America is too clear to deny. In the past few decades, Blacks’ fortunes and prospects have soared toward the heavens. Blacks have entered virtually every sector of American society and breathed life into Martin Luther King’s extraordinary fantasy. Despite the heinous acts of Charlottesville, Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, Chicago and other urban communities, Black America is still quietly moving forward.
The significant reversal of Black fortunes is a signal event, one that “must be acknowledged and celebrated. Yet, for the most part, Blacks are not celebrating it, which raises an inevitable question: if the news in Black America is so good these days, why are people not dancing in the streets? Why are civil-rights leaders not proclaiming it from the rooftops? Why has the dialogue on racial relations not fundamentally changed to accentuate the progress instead of the lingering problems?
As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy and upcoming Black History Month, it’s time to pause and reflect on the hope and progress in our Black communities rather than the hopelessness and fear that gripped us 55 years ago, when Dr. King dared to dream of an America for all Americans.