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The Promised Land: Are We There Yet?

By on January 16, 2012

This is the time of year millions will reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  His non-violent approach toward civil rights, his inspiring speeches, his ability to coalesce a movement from humble means, etc; Dr. King marched, faced incarceration, faced beatings, and publicly spoke out so black people, all people could enjoy the promise of our forefathers, equity under the law.

But this Kind Day, I am struck by both the gains and the advances made by people of color and the larger society. From famous entertainers to the President of the United States, from the men of Morehouse to the men behind bars. How has the black community advanced collectively and individually? Now that black kids can be educated alongside white kids, are black parents doing all they can to prepare their children for college and beyond? Now that black people can vote for black political candidates, are we involved in the political process? How are African Americans especially fulfilling the legacy of Dr. King? It’s an important question.

Consider the statistics from the Department of Justice (2009) indicating that black males are incarcerated – held in prison or jail – at a rate that is over 6 times higher than that for white males. For every 100,000 black males, an estimated 4,777 are held in federal or state prison or a local jail. There is the Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males (2008) reports over the last 25 years, the social, educational and economic outcomes for Black males have been more systemically devastating than the outcomes for any other racial or ethnic group or gender. Black males have consistently low educational attainment levels, are more chronically unemployed and underemployed, are less healthy and have access to fewer health care resources, die much younger, and are many times more likely to be sent to jail for periods significantly longer than males of other racial/ethnic groups.

Given the scope and scale of violent crime in black communities, high school dropout rates among black students, and rates of teen pregnancy and public assistance among black households, the idea of personal responsibility, goal-setting, and the “village approach” to helping one another has been mostly diminished. Why? Certainly racism, sexism, poor public policies, etc.  play a role in undermining the American dream for many but there is also the idea of how personal choice plays a role in our destiny. Is black America advancing the Dr. King legacy? Are Dr. King’s civil rights achievements still meaningful? Did King march so Jay-Z can call black women the B-word? So more black kids can drop out of school? Is the dignity of a people Dr. King talked about undermined when we publish elicit, nude images on twitter and other networking sites? It begs the question, did Dr. King march, advocate, and sacrifice for this?

I’d like to encourage you to strive for behavior that is in line with your “better self” and create local change by starting with yourself, your own behavior, and maybe you can also impact a friend, a community, and possibly a nation.

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