When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, I was a twelve year old child, living just north of Harlem in New York City. The neighborhood we lived in was about half African-American, and a little less than half Latino (Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban). I knew what is was like to be a minority in those days. There were very few whites living where we did — my brother, sister and I were the only kids in our elementary school with blond hair.
What I remember in the hours, days, and weeks that followed Rev. King’s death was a deep, deep sense of loss — it was all around me, palpable, and raw. I remember watching the violence on television, and while there was anger in the streets of my neighborhood also, I never felt like any of it was directed at me for being white. Our neighbors were still our neighbors. We still hung out on the street and talked and played ball. I thank God to this day that none of my neighbors or classmates was looking for someone to blame and scapegoat for the killing of Rev. King. I could easily have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Today marks 47 years to the day since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave us his “I Have A Dream” speech. We are all so much richer for it. In his Letter from the Jail in Birmingham, AL, Rev. King implored us:
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
All these many years later, the dark clouds of racial prejudice seem very much still with us. Latinos, Muslims, illegal immigrants are but the latest reasons given for Americans to be fearful, by those who would hold us back from the promise that is uniquely American. An America in which “all men are created equal” and the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” May God’s will be done here in the United States of America. May today bring us a day closer to a time in which we no longer look to blame others for what ails us. We need to look within ourselves as individuals, and as a nation, and more clearly discern what it means to be American. We must overcome our fears and renounce those who would divide us. And we must learn forgiveness, and civility, if we are to love one another. An America like that would be a wondrous place indeed; a place that would look very different than America does today.