Fifty-three years ago, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what a 1999 study by scholars of public address deemed to be the greatest political speech of the 20th Century. In his famous “I have a dream” speech, Dr. King pointed out that that 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, “the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

“One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

It’s easy to look back on the past 50 years, or 100 years, or 200 and think that the progress we’ve made on many fronts — equality, liberty — have been inevitable. To disprove that we need only look around the world at much older countries than our own, where human life is far too expendable, where brute force and brutality rule, where homosexual ‘propaganda’ is a jailable offense, where women are blamed for their own rape, where near-slaves work in factories making cheap clothing and cell phones for the West.

Progress can be its own enemy. As problems become less immediate — less violent, less visible — it becomes harder to stay interested in solving them, but we must remain committed to “dramatizing” all “shameful conditions.”

Dr. King, considered a radical subversive in his time and spied on by the United States government, is now memorialized in the Capital. Yet, we are left with a far more complex “shameful condition.”

Yet while hatred is shouted down by many, no one can doubt that — in this country of immigrants — there is still progress to be made, 53 years after Dr. King’s speech and almost 153 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

As much as many would like to believe that America is now a “post-racial” society, distrust and anger lingers, as evidenced by protests, arguments and violence throughout this country about how the justice system operates.

Poverty is still at troubling levels throughout the state and country. Here in Darien, our children have access to a quality of education and a safe and comfortable way of life that children in Connecticut’s inner cities, regardless of skin pigmentation, simply don’t have.

While many use Monday’s holiday as an opportunity to have a long weekend of winter fun away, it’s important to consider the reason behind the day off.

Let’s remember that 53 years isn’t even one lifetime, though it is longer than Dr. King’s own, and remarkable progress can be made in such a short period. Dr.King and other great men and women serve as icons of movements, but those movements draw their power from the people who they lead, during their own lifetime and beyond.

Think. Reach out. Connect. Try to understand others. And work toward bringing Dr. King’s dream a little closer to reality.


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