This week marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement that called for equality, unity, and acceptance. Since then, times have certainly changed and I think we can all agree when I say that our civil rights situation in America has greatly improved. Segregation is gone and we’re seeing more interracial families everyday. However, the Civil Rights Movement shouldn’t stop at that and we certainly shouldn’t look back at MLK’s speech with the thought that our work is done. The truth is there is still plenty of room for improvement and it is up to our generation to maintain that momentum and hunger for progress.
Unfortunately, discrimination is still around, but, now, it is just less visible. The worst part though is that prejudice isn’t one sided. I think everyone makes presumptions about the people they encounter based on stereotypes, personal beliefs, and what they see in front of them, often clouding what is truly presented to them. Many times we have already made up our minds about a person before they even have the chance to convince us otherwise. It’s in our nature. It’s normal, but it can be changed. It is up to us to stop looking through a bias lens and instead make a conscious decision to give others an opportunity to show us who they are. It’s not right for anyone to assume who someone is without hearing them first. If anything is going to get better, we have to start with how we see the world and how we react to it. We can’t feed into the negativity we complain about. Instead, we have to at least stop it from stemming from within ourselves.
Today, our issues of civil rights don’t solely revolve around if a person is black or white. Now, individuals are being categorized as illegal aliens rather than people. Couples are being shamed, ostracized, and denied because of who they love. All while a person’s complexion is still a measure of their significance in society. In 2013, it’s beautiful to see a light skinned little girl with bouncy curly hair walking down the street with her white mom and black father. I love the fact that I was able to go to school with my black, Hispanic, Asian, white, and mixed friends. But I also want to see my cousin marry the love of his life without people being shocked that he has a husband. I don’t want my students to feel like they can’t go to school because their parents immigrated here for a better life. I’m tired of still feeling uncomfortable for being the only Hispanic in a room.
The problem is not gone. We haven’t finished what so many set out to do half a century ago. Yes, we have taken huge strides since Dr. King delivered his speech in 1963, but we have to continue marching forward to make his dream and the dream of so many others a complete reality.