“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country, tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We have all heard the “I Have a Dream” speech on many occasions. Some of us have memorized all or parts of it. This speech is arguably one of the greatest speeches of all time. Dr. King gave us this historic talk in Washington, D.C., in 1963. To paraphrase Dr. King, many Americans came there that summer to cash a check. This check to be cashed promised that all Americans, Black and White, would have a chance to carve out a successful life. This successful life was not to be given to us. In order to get it our work ethic had to be exemplary and our willpower had to be strong.
We heard this speech a lot during the month of February since it has been designated as Black History Month. We all know the evolution of Black history and how it came to be. For those who are content with celebrating it for 28 or 29 days, then I say it is time to make a change. However, there are many others like me whose thirst for knowledge and pride has not been quenched by one month of activities. Unfortunately there are too many of us who are satisfied with where we are today. They will point to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., and say that we have a Black president. Some pointed a few years ago to Condoleezza Rice and said we have a Black woman as secretary of state. I along with many others would suggest that is not enough and that our glass of hope is not full. We can’t sip from the cup of a few accomplishments and think that we have arrived. Dr. King pointed out some years ago now that we are all inextricably bound together. Those of us who have achieved a morsel of success must help the next generation to become more successful. What are you doing for others is as compelling a question today as when Dr. King raised it years ago.
Too many of us have the mindset that says, “I have mine so you get yours the best way you can.” That in my opinion is a rather shallow way of thinking, yet there are people who really believe it. It is my opinion that, when you get a position of leadership, you have a responsibility to help people or as they say in some parts to do some good in the neighborhood. If you take the position and then leave the position with nothing changed, then you have just been a caretaker.
If we really believe in Black history and its importance, then we will work tirelessly to see it celebrated during each month of the year. Our history as African Americans must be incorporated in textbooks at all levels. When expert opinions are needed, there must be some Black experts called to give their opinions, and it is only when people who are in positions of leadership become intentional in making us a part of the mainstream. If the celebration of Black history becomes not such a big deal, maybe then more progress can be made. Some may disagree with me on this point but just think about it. The planning of events for Black History Month is pretty significant. You will see parades, hear speeches and participate in other events that celebrate this special month. Yet, after February, all the events go back on the shelf until next year. I just believe that we can do better than one month.
Dr. King said, “I’ve decided to do battle for my philosophy.” We must now do battle to create an inclusive culture that is welcoming to all of us and not just some of us. I find it ironic that February is designated as Black History Month and March is set aside for Women’s History Month. If you follow the Black history route, then all the contributions for women should be celebrated during the month of March. This is just as wrong.
People of color and women must be drawn into the total landscape of America. We can’t have a designated hill that we ascend to once a year and then stay on the ground for the rest of the year. We must remember that the tapestry that we paint today will be left for our children tomorrow. What will our legacy be?
Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. is vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org