Sunday, February 24, 2008

Black History Month: In Ecuador of All Places!

“I have a dream” proclaimed Martin Luther King Jr.. This, being Black History Month, I have to ask, how many Americans can say exactly what he said his dream was? In other words, who can finish the quote?

Last Monday, my high school students stopped me in mid-lecture. “Tell us about the elections in the USA” Wendy said. With every ounce of my might, I tried to side step it: there were grammatical rules of English to be taught and learned. But they persisted. I became suspicious, wondering if they knew of my obsession with American politics. When they successfully named the three candidates in the race, I relented (is anyone really counting Huckabee anymore?). Our discussion of the candidates eventually took us into a history of America I feel too many young people my age don’t know enough about: black history. I tried in a short time frame to cover Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, Carter G. Woodson,Thurgood Marshall, the Black Panther, the Little Rock 9, Frederick Douglass, and more...

The questions flew from every direction. Everyone was engaged and voicing their opinion. I gave an impromptu lecture about race relations in the USA and moderated a conversation about relations between blacks, those of Spanish descent, and indigenous here in Ecuador.

I happened to have a mixed CD with the song “We Shall Overcome” on it. I played the song, roughly translating it. As class ended, no one moved. Eventually, one girl spoke up. The voice of the singer was sad she told the class. And it frustrated her that after these powerful messages of “walking hand in hand”, “living in peace” and “we shall overcome” were always followed by the same phrase: algun dia. Someday. It’s an issue of inequality, a universal issue these kids know well. Why not “now” she asked me and her classmates?

In America, more black young men will go to prison than college. Consider that “For every $1.00 earned by a man, the average woman receives only 77 cents, while African American women only get 67 cents and Latinas receive only 57 cents.” Hate crimes rose by 8% in 2006. “African Americans and Hispanics are more than twice as likely as whites to be searched, arrested, or subdued with force when stopped by police. Disparities in drug sentencing laws, like the differential treatment of crack as opposed to powder cocaine, are unfair.” *

There is a great columnist at the Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts Jr. Not too long ago, he wrote a piece entitled "When You're Right Beyond All Questions." I wish all white people could read it so they might understand me better when I say there is still so much to be done. Despite all the progress: the Civil Rights Act, affirmative action, a black man running for president with a viable shot at winning- we still have so far to go.

Oh, and as for what MLK said in that famous speech: "And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!."

I’m reading To America by historian Stephen E. Ambrose. He noted how Jefferson, despite the many great things he did for America, followed convenience over conviction by leaving the next generation of Revolutionaries to end slavery. It took until the 1860’s. It took another 100 years to push through Civil Rights thanks to brave men and women of all walks of life. Let’s not wait until 2060 to take that next step: that one day our children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

* Obtained from Barack Obama’s Blue Print for Change on his website,

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