(The following is a update to a post I originally published in January 2015.)

With the events of the past two years, it would be difficult to argue that our nation has made substantial progress towards Dr. King’s vision of an America reflective of a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

I continue to worry about the polarization of American society – politically, socially, and financially. We all bear some level of responsibility. One of the important tenets of Dr. King’s writings is the importance of our individual role in promoting the ideals that “all men are created equal” and that all human beings are worthy of respect, kindness, and love.

Moreover, Dr. King reminds us of the urgency to stand up for our beliefs and the ideals that make America a beacon of hope for so many: “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

On this day which commemorates his birthday, 88 years ago, it is appropriate to recall a few more of his words – ideas and phrases that still resonate in our collective national soul almost fifty years after his death.

I believe the underlying hope which underscored Dr. King’s message during his life was that the power of love would one day overcome the long-standing, destructive foundations of hate that had divided our great nation for so many generations.

His dream was that one day, his children, and all children in America, would live in a society where they were judged by their character and not by the color of their skin.

Dr. King believed strongly in the words of our founders that ALL men are created equal and that every human being–regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, faith, or any other human characteristic–should ultimately be treated with dignity and respect. In King’s mind, which he powerfully articulated with his words, we are all part of God’s creation and therefore equal in His eyes.

I think it is important to continuously assess how our nation is doing with furthering Dr. King’s ideals.

While our country has made significance progress and African-Americans certainly have more opportunity than in any time in our history, the reality is that we have a long way to go.

Yes, America has had its first black President, several black Supreme Court Justices, and many other African-Americans who have attained great heights in every aspect of our society.

At the same time, far too many of our citizens in minority communities continue to struggle to overcome the pervasive effects of generational poverty and urban decay. This disparity is no more clear than in the realm of public education.

Nearly 60 years have passed since the Supreme Court made its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, legally ending school segregation across the United States. Yet, today, the legacy of school segregation persists, as racial isolation remains the reality of many students nationwide.

We live in a nation that becomes more diverse with each passing year. While it is expected that the U.S. population will shift from a white-majority to a minority-majority by 2046, currently most students do not see that diversity reflected in their school experience. Nationally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52 percent of black students and 58 percent of Latino students attend school where minority students make up 75 percent or more of the entire student body.

Here are some troubling statistics:

  • In Chicago, America’s most segregated city, it’s typical for students to go through their entire K-12 education without ever having met a classmate of another race (GOOD Magazine)
  • New York City has the second most segregated schools in the nation. The Civil Rights Project considers 73 percent of New York City charters to be “apartheid schools,” in which less than 1 percent of students are white.
  • For the first time in over fifty years, the majority (51%) of children in our public schools live in poverty. (Southern Education Foundation).
  • Public schools are more segregated NOW than they were forty years ago. (Economic Policy Institute)
  • Students identified as “white” now comprise only 4.8 percent of the total student population in Dallas public schools. 92.8 percent are identified as Black or Hispanic, nearly 90% of which are living below the federal poverty line (Dallas ISD 2015-2016 Annual Report)

I am not naive. These represent extremely complex issues involving difficult societal and cultural factors – including crime, drugs, gangs, broken homes, poor schools, and lack of jobs. There are no simple solutions. And, yes, I did include schools in this list because we represent the biggest hope of turning this tide of poverty.

Dr. King realized this as well. In fact, his words spoken generations ago are even more relevant for children growing up in the rapidly changing 21st century.

These words end with this famous quote: “Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.”

I somehow don’t think Dr. King would submit to the current thinking that the best way to measure the potential of a child is through a once-a-year standardized test. He might actually refer to people who believe this as sincere and conscientious.

Of course, while I am engaging in speculation, I believe that Dr. King would be highly frustrated to see what has been perpetrated on students of poverty over the past few decades. I suspect he would speak out strongly against inadequate educational funding, an overemphasis on test-based accountability, the closing of neighborhood schools and the creation of charter schools that exacerbate urban segregation, and the frequent “blame the child” mentality.

He would probably ask us to THINK a little harder!

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King shared a beautiful vision for himself and our nation. He had a dream worth fighting for, and sadly, in his case, a dream worth dying for. However, his words continue to live with us today. Our challenge as citizens of the greatest nation on earth is to KEEP THEM ALIVE. Being silent on things that matter cannot be an option.

In case you haven’t read his words recently, I would like to close with the final stanzas of his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. His ideas are as powerful now as they were when he uttered them 53 years ago in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!