Community leaders, public officials and ordinary citizens gathered together in Washington, D.C. Friday to discuss whether and how Martin Luther King’s “dream” was being fulfilled, 48 years after he delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech” during the 1963 March on Washington.
“I’m just a concerned citizen,” said Wilson Rice, who said he came to the Table of Brotherhood event hoping to examine not only the greatness of King’s legacy, but the problems that still exist in our country today that King himself would have attempted to address.
“I think we have made a lot of progress in a lot of areas,” Rice admitted, but there are still many problems that remain not only in the Black community, but within our society as a whole. “If we don’t break the divide as American people, with the Tea Party and whatnot, we won’t make progress.”
The event at the Washington Convention Center took its name from a line in King’s iconic speech in which he said he envisioned a day when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”
Marie Davenport attended the 1963 March on Washington. “It was an awesome thing,” she recalled. “What impressed me so much about that march was the Black and White people, all races of people coming together to listen to King’s dream.”
Davenport has since become an English teacher in Frankfurt, Germany and has been spreading the ideals of King overseas. She and her husband Rudy Schneider, an interracial couple, feel as if they are an example of the dream doctor King was trying to make a reality.
“I think we are the best example of Dr. King’s message, Black and White together,” said Schneider. The couple has been married for 10 years, “and color has never been an issue between us,” Davenport added. “We cannot afford to let color or anything get in our way,” she said. “We need to prepare ourselves to overcome no matter what it is that is keeping us down.”
Bob Murray, who spent 22 years in the Marines and currently works at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, was lucky enough to win a VIP pass to the event.
“In the military we learned to depend on the person to your left and your right, whether that person is White, green, purple, yellow, or brown,” he said. “That was part of King’s dream and being able to live a part of that was great.”
The Rev. Eric Lee, President CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, and Sharron Grove, Director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign, came out to the discussion as well.
“It’s a tale of two cities, two worlds,” Lee said. He acknowledged that there has been progress, but still sees the divide between the opportunities available for minorities compared to whites.
“We find a significant number of African Americans and other minorities continually struggling to achieve some level of economic success, which leads to social uplifting.”
The concept of race and racism is not nearly as blatant today as it was when King gave his I Have a Dream speech, yet it is still alarmingly real.
“With the election of an African American president, we’ve seen a heightened dialogue on race, and it’s not a good dialogue,” Lee said. “This president has experienced a disrespect that no other president has.”
“King gave us our model of the beloved community, and we haven’t lived into that,” Grove said. “There are ways in which African Americans are consistently on the low end of the economic bracket, and we don’t deal with it as a country.”
Lee said African Americans need to invest in themselves and in “…generational wealth building opportunities…” in order to become truly equal, but he hopes we haven’t missed our chance. “What we’ve got to do, is go back to loving being Black, we have to rebuild the movement.”