"Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having your legs cut off, and then being condemned for being a cripple. It means seeing your mother and father spiritually murdered by the slings and arrows of daily exploitation, and then being hated for being an orphan... To be a Negro in America is to hope against hope." - Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967
When Dr. King wrote those words, America was a very different place than it is today, especially in the South. Segregation in public places and schools was eroding, but poverty throughout the nation among African-Americans was prevalent. Robert Clark was serving in his first year as the first Black Mississippi legislator since Reconstruction. Many African-American young men where being drafted into the police action we refer to now as The Vietnam War, yet a defiant Muhammad Ali was rejecting his draft status. The Black Power movement was in full effect and the Black Panthers were at the height of their influence. Barack Hussein Obama was a six-year-old living in Jakarta, Indonesia, while Edward William Brooke, III was serving as the only African-American in the United States Senate.
Challenging times to say the least. In the midst of this challenge, Black people in America were searching for a sense of identity and hope. Cosmetically, Afros were sprouting up, but socially and economically, we were going in many different directions, hoping against hope.
As we fast forward to today, on the eve of the shattering of the ultimate glass ceiling for African-Americans, the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, I ask the question, despite the obvious progress we have made, are we still hoping against hope? Unemployment rates in our communities are still disproportionately high, glaring economic and health disparities still exist, school districts in the inner cities and certain rural communities are struggling to maintain levels of excellence, as well as bodies in the classroom, black on black violence is still ridiculously high and yet many young men and women are fighting wars for a country in which these dire conditions exist.
As we look with pride at a historic moment on January 2oth, we need to remember it is only a moment. The Obama administration has to lead with an agenda that will address the concerns of a people that has time after time hoped against hope. We also have to play a role in making that agenda successful, by easing the burden of government to fix the problems our churches and homes are equipped to do.
It is imperative for the sake of our future to get past the party mode of the next few days and go to work. We owe it to our ancestors to change this perception of hoping against hope as our destiny in this land called America. I have faith that these next four years will lay the foundation for that change. I hope that I am right.