Monday is the holiday held in honor of the Drum Major for Justice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Every year, as I read his most famous speech, “I Have A Dream” printed to the left, I wonder what King would think if he were alive today.
Much of his prophetic dream has come true. Black men and white men, Jews and gentiles break bread together every day. His four little children have grown up witnessing a new South. And I hazard a guess that he could not have conceived, in 1963, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.
But I also think King would be sick to his stomach. King said in his Dream speech, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline ...”
That is not what’s happening on many of our streets today as our lost youth band together, not to protest, but to prowl. Can there be a “high plane of dignity” wearing pants below the butt line, hoodies, gold teeth and tattoos?
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Would King shake his head when told that more than 800,000 black men are incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and that black women have a higher incarceration rate per 100,000 than Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites?
I think he would be disgusted and give a very different speech today. No longer would he rail on the “vicious racists” and governors with “lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification.” No, I think the words King would speak echo in the voice of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who last August, responding to the third incident of mob violence in his city stood in the podium of Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
“Let me speak plain,” Nutter said. “That’s part of the problem in the black community ... We have too many men making too many babies that they don’t want to take care of, and then we end up dealing with your children ...
“Unfortunately, there’s a few -- could be a hundred, could be a couple of hundred, could be a thousand -- that’s still less than one percent, but there are some really bad ones. And unfortunately, they engage in violent behavior. They’re lawless. They act with ignorance. They don’t care about anybody else, and they’re behavior is outrageous ...”
Nutter told the youth of his city to “Take those doggone hoodies down ... Pull your pants up and buy a belt, because no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt. Nobody ... Comb your hair -- and get some grooming skills ... Learn some manners. Keep your butt in school. Graduate from high school. Go on to college so you can go and make something of yourself ...
“And why don’t you work on extend(ing) your English vocabulary beyond the few curse words that you know, some other grunts and grumbles and other things that none of us can understand what you’re saying ...
“And if you go to look for a job, don’t go blame it on the white folks, or anybody else. If you walk in somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back and your shoes untied and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arm, on your face, on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you. They don’t hire you because you look like you’re crazy ...”
We don’t have to go to the City of Brotherly Love, do we? There are plenty of local examples walking around looking like they’re crazy. Rev. Ronald Terry of New Fellowship Baptist Church said, “We have raised a generation of young people that is lawless, godless and fearless.”
King had a dream, but in many respects, it would be hard for him to sleep at night for the recurring nightmares.
My dream is that we use this time of reflection to refocus on our plight and realize the Dream is far from fulfilled.
Watch or read Nutter’s speech at www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/michaelnuttermountcarmelbaptist.htm.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.