Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Dr. King

The above photo was taken at the Democratic National Convention, during one of the more moving tributes I've seen for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although I'm sure much of it was in the well-edited sound bytes and video clips, much more of it had to do with the setting. 45 years to the day of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech - or the march on Washington - and the Democratic Party nominated a black man for president. The rest is, quite literally, history.

Although Dr. King's birthday is a few days past, America celebrates him today. This made me think, once again, of Cal. I've posted about this before, but it is worth another moment.

Cal was an Alaska delegate on the convention, and surprised many of us by talking about being there on that day 45 years ago. He saw Dr. King, and he was about to see Obama. I discovered later he was born in the south, and was involved in the civil rights movement there before moving to Alaska and becoming involved up here.

When I asked him on the plane ride home if he thought, back then, that he would see in his lifetime a black president, he was quite thoughtful.

He said he supposed none of them really did. Back then, the best they were hoping for was someone to advocate for them. A white man in the white house who was sympathetic to the cause, if you will. But a black president in his lifetime was simply so out there, a bit much, maybe, to imagine at the time.

Well, Cal, you're about to see something incredible. The very last time we celebrate Dr. King's day as a country that has never had a black president.

The very last day, ever, in fact, that this country will belong to that generation.

I hope you don't misunderstand - I do not take anything away from that generation. Without the generation that fought so long and hard, we would not see this day.

What I mean is, now it's in our hands.

The night of the election, I spoke with my grandma. She was a woman who fought that battle here in Alaska, fought for better Native education, Native rights, civil rights. She was quite solemn, and she didn't say much. But what she did say was, "Well, now it's up to you guys."

After last few months, I am actually feeling pretty hopeful about the next generation's ability to take on that mantle.

I think Obama said it pretty well last night on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
There is no doubt that our road will be long, that our climb will be steep. But never forget that the true character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard. I ask you to help me reveal that character once more, and together, we can carry forward as one nation, and one people, the legacy of our forefathers that we celebrate today. God bless you. And God bless America.

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