On what would have been his 90th birthday, I find myself reflecting upon my last visit to the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. a few years ago. The monument, the man, and the Movement are too often misunderstood.
The monument fittingly shows him to emerge from a mountain. The mountain represents the large, difficult barrier that has had to be fought through for civil rights. The rock has been made firm by centuries of hate, bigotry, and ignorance. The fight to break through the mountain is difficult, and progress is often too slow, but it is worth it.
Civil rights is not just about African American people, it is a movement for all people. Whether it be because of skin color, religion, lifestyle choices, or anything else, bigotry and racism make the country we share weaker. When we break down that mountain, we all rise together.
During the week leading up to my visit to the monument, I had the tremendous pleasure to observe about 200 kids from all over the country participating in a program known as “Close Up”. The program is not simply meant to have kids tour our nation’s capital but to engage and inspire them. Some were white, many were not. There were young women, kids with disabilities, straight kids, gay kids, and transgender kids. There were likely kids from many different religious beliefs there. I’m not sure. I didn’t ask, and no one else seemed to be worried about it either.
The kids were smart, passionate, curious, engaging, and thought provoking.
Before Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, many of these kids would have not been allowed the opportunity to participate in a program like this. Its painful to think how many people have not been allowed to shine throughout history because they were not born the “right” way.
Consider how much Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement changed this country. America was created with the words “Liberty and Justice For All”, but was miles away from actually living this mantra. In our first Presidential election, only 4 percent of the population was allowed to vote. Dr. King and the civil rights movement forced America to come much closer to turning the words of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution into reality. Unfortunately, we are the recipients of daily reminders that Dr. King’s fight has still not been completely won. The mountain may be not as high as it once was, but it continues to fight for its survival. It is up to us, the living, to destroy that mountain of hatred and bigotry.
The Civil Rights Movement IS, not was.
If you are not helping move the mountain, you are the mountain.
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