Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Day: REALITY CHECK

America celebrates Martin Luther King’s birthday today as the third Monday of January, making it a government holiday conducive for a three day weekend but perhaps less honorific of the man whose birthday was January 15, 1929. It’s the man and his accomplishments that matter, and who else in American history helped change America for the better the way Dr. King did?

Like many martyrs, it has become almost impossible to talk about Martin Luther King objectively, as a real person who had real strengths and weaknesses. Since his death on that horrible 4th day of April, 1968, politicians, civil rights leaders, journalists, and Americans from all walks of life have cloaked their objectives behind the King legacy, some times in noble ways consistent of the dream King envisioned; others in dreadfully opportunistic ways that either misrepresent his principles or use his vision to stir emotions for unjust causes.

It’s hard to believe what racial divides existed in the summer of 1963 when King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This writer can remember as a youth travelling through Virginia where a dining facility had separate bathrooms where the ones for “colored people” was only accessible from outside and then seeing robed Ku Klux Klan members standing on a street corner in a small Tidewater town.

Within a decade much had changed. The break down of racial barriers through the 1970's were substantial. Now, a generation later, the United States has a Black president although Barack Obama has no familial connection whatsoever to the citizens of African descent whose ancestors were brought to these shores as slaves. From corporate board rooms to virtually every walk of life, people of all races are leaders and top professionals. That the gender barrier has also fallen also owes much to the pathway the Civil Rights Movement provided.

While much has been accomplished, there is still much work to be done. Sadly, the so-called “Black Leaders” are hardly on the right path and often use racial division as a means to promote themselves and their special interests but not help those in need at all. For if there were not racial division, they’d have no reason to exist. How many times have there been situations that required clear, rational discussion where figures like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton injected race creating a racially inflammatory situation where a more reasoned approach would be to the greatest benefit of all? Sufficient examples document Jackson’s corporate shakedowns where he attempts to establish improper racial practices by major companies leading to settlements most beneficial to Jackson’s special interests not the black community at large.

Racial quotas more politely named “affirmative action” and perhaps the rise of political correctness itself are negative consequences of how the real thrust of the pursuit of social justice has been perverted. Truly, if what really matters is as King expressed, the content of one’s character not one’s skin color, the hypocrisy becomes quite evident.

Such distinctions as mentioned so far don’t address the real issue, that racism is still alive and well, and a huge segment of African-America does not have the same opportunities as the rest of the population.

Consider the following subjects: academic performance and test performance, unemployment, and the prison population – whose numbers are showing a horrible disconnect with the rest of America, young black men, we MUST do better.

In the best of circumstances, white teachers who’d go berserk at the slightest suggestion they might see the world in racial terms are quick to write off the potential of young black male students who might be well-behaved and polite but only squeaking by with “C” work. “Oh he’s doing pretty good for a black kid.” Well, maybe this kid has the potential to do “A” work but isn’t being challenged to do so. How about that? There is no question that the pervasive culture of mainstream public education is one of lower expectations of African-American students. Teachers are reluctant to challenge black students where they might be much more assertive with other students.

Far worse is the climate that exists in predominantly majority black schools generally in urban areas where the white population has evacuated and at times left the local district with less funding that their surrounding communities. For the last few decades state and Federal funding has poured into urban schools but like sending foreign aid to a corrupt third world dictatorship, the money seems to go more toward perks and privilege for the bureaucracy never reaching those in need for whom the funds were intended.

Schools must create a safe, comfortable environment if the neediest students are ever to have a chance to succeed. Children need teachers who take an interest in them as individuals and work with them on their academics and character.

Evil influences confront young black males at every turn where the “gangsta” influence and contempt for authority it embraces pervades the culture and leads to dangerous behavior of gang involvement, violence, and drugs.

Corporate America, whether it is the music industry pushing the worst of rap music that glorifies violence and sexual aggression or companies and retailers of “athletic apparel” selling their overpriced wares to often the most economically disadvantaged households, inappropriate and unrealistic images are suffocating reality – the underlying value: crass conspicuous materialism.

Washington, DC had a most beneficial program granting tuition vouchers to needy students to attend private and parochial schools. How quickly the Democratic Party’s majority on Capitol Hill revoked this program to satisfy the political desires of the teachers unions rather than benefit the children. To see the kids who had benefitted from this program, how intelligent, articulate, and purposeful their enriched education had helped them become – that these kids had bold dreams of college and beyond and to think that kids in this program would be thrown back into the cesspool of DC schools is beyond heartbreaking, it’s purely a moral outrage.

That these kids from such limited backgrounds could do so well shows convincingly that given the right kind of attention and a solid academic program, ALL CHILDREN CAN SUCCEED.

We need only look to where many of the kids in urban public cities graduate to see the results of a failing institution. Again and again, we’ve heard that there are more black men of college age in prison, on probation, parole, or facing charges than attending college. To say that this is in part a direct result of the dreadful school environment many of which served as the breeding and indoctrination grounds into lives of crime is ludicrous. It would be interesting to note how many of these young black men are in jail for drug possession charges that white kids in the suburbs would never get locked up for.

We must unite as a nation and declare that every school must be a compassionate and effective place of learning for all students, that every child matters, that every child must be challenged to succeed, that all behavior good and bad has consequences, and that hard work, positive values, and respect for others will always be the ultimate desired result with a meaningful curriculum that provides the necessary knowledge, skills, and values supporting these aims on every level.

We must assure that American justice and law is color blind. The insane war on drugs and how the law persecutes minorities must be torn inside out where law enforcement deals with the real dangers to society and isn’t locking up kids for blowing a little reefer. The greatest defense against drug abuse is creating the values where such counterproductive behavior is not an option. This points directly back to proper schooling that instills proper self-respect and discipline that help young people chose more appropriate alternatives.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream is alive so is his struggle. The battle lines are different but the goal remains the same.

Somehow, Martin Luther King sales at the big retailers and NBA matinees disregard the very philosophy behind which honoring Doctor King with a holiday was established in the first place. Sadly, in 2010, MLK day is becoming just another government holiday whose essential meaning is not getting the reflection it deserves.

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