The Reality of A Dream

obama-king

Two Score and nearly 10 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who was as consequential to our story and our success as any of our greatest Founding Fathers, gave a speech about where he saw the path of this nation leading and where we have tread since.  Four years prior to that point, Dr. Martin Luther King had laid out his dream, a dream where this nation was able to leave behind the bonds of racial inequality and disparity and embrace what the promise of this nation has always been about: the equality of ALL, no matter their race, class or gender.  However by 1967, Dr. King had slowly begin to realize that the dream he had was becoming a nightmare.  We were being bogged down in foreign wars.  His struggle against intolerance with his own brand of tolerance was being ignored.  And he also begin to see that racial prejudice often went hand in glove with economic deprivation.

In the 1967 speech that Dr. King gave, he noted that if this nation is to realize the dream that he laid out 1963, America must undergo a revolution of values.  He also described what that revolution will look like when he said:

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

A year after he said those words, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed.

However, in the 50 years since, this nation has come a long way down that road.  Our schools have desegregated.  Our workforce has diversified.  Our neighborhoods and communities have been largely amalgamated to a degree where a complete disassociation of someone outside of your background is a near impossibility.  And the hallmark of all of this was realized in 2008 when men, women, white and those of color elected the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

Born during the very years that Dr. King’s dream of racial equality was just that, Barack Obama is nothing short of a direct product of that dream.  With a African father, an Asian stepfather, a white mother raised formatively by white grandparents, Barack Obama married an African-American woman and has been the head of a middle-class American family.  If that were the end of his journey that would be remarkable enough.  But what has aided his path to becoming our nation’s duly-elected leader was not just his uniquely American experience, but also his ability to speak to us and open our hearts and mind and to connect to our humanity in a way that has been unmatched by an other leader of this nation’s history.

What drove his his path to the presidency was the fundamental idea of hope.  A hope for a future where the dream of a Martin Luther King can be a reality.  Not just a dream of racial equality, but a dream of economic and social fairness.  And that was the motif with which he not only campaigned on but would be the precipice of his presidency.  And it is also that hope of his example that many of us outside the mainstream wanted to see revered.  The unfortunate reality of Dr. King’s dream is that the image of the Black American man has changed very little over the last 50 years.  Many of the same obstructions that has hindered our progress in 1967 still exist in 2017.  Yes, some are self-inflicted, but many others are due to the structure of society that continues to produce the societal ills that cannot be fixed by the efforts of a few.

But Barack Obama was an emergence from that image.  In a society that often sees Black males as criminal, he was a constructive force.  In a society that often hears about the miseducation of Black males, he was a Harvard-educated law professor.  In a society that often is subjected to Black males absent in their families, he has raised two daughters to be beautiful young women.  In a society that often thinks of Black males as a drag on societal resources, he gave back to his community, his state and ultimately his country.  Individually, as Black men, our lives are sorted.  Some have done better than others and collectively we show the world who we are.  Fairly or unfairly, we are judged because of it.  Barack Obama has done in life what we all could hope to accomplish.  He has not only become our example how how to lead our lives, he’s become America’s example of what we can be.  He is not only Martin Luther King’s Dream, he’s also the American Dream.

Without a shadow of doubt, Barack Obama is the best of us.  Not because of his politics, but because of what he was and what he became; Successful.  However, as much as we wanted this to be an example of who we are and what we can do, I have come to the slow realization that, while he’s been a success, one battle does not win the war.  What I have see isn’t an acceptance of the image of what we can be, but unrecognition of who we actually are.  His very words and intentions, which are completely familiar to Black America, are often misinterpreted as something more duplicitous and egotistic.  The last eight years have been a reminder of how disconnected we still are on lines of race and class. And sadly, that was the legacy many outside Black America perceived from Barack Obama. But for us, Barack Obama showed us who we always thought we were and who we wish the world would see.

But what we have left is the society that has produced a Barack Obama.  Have we been able to achieve the dream with which Martin Luther King informed us about?  Again, while we have been able to produce a Barack Obama, what has it amounted to?  He has still been reviled, maligned and disparaged, no matter how accomplished he is.  The many aspersions he’s experienced have only prevented him from being able to restructure the edifice that continues to plague our society.  American exceptionalism would indeed be exceptional if it weren’t for the exceptions we have continued to accept.  We have indeed come a long way in 50 years.  But if we are to judge the reaction to the realization of what one of our greatest Americans could only dream of, we have not come nearly far enough.  What good has it been to achieve a dream when the reality is still a nightmare for so many others?

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It is now 2017.  We are 17 years in to the 21st Century.  Ten centuries prior, almost an entire millennia ago, we saw the first recorded use of gunpowder to deliver a projectile with the specific intent to kill.  Ostensibly, before being used to propel what was known as “fire arrows”, gunpowder was also called “fire medicine” due to it’s medicinal use by the Chinese trying to achieve immortality.  Yes, the gun was invented during the search for eternal life, which has now granted humanity the gift of instant death.

We are not even a full week into 2017 where the breaking news has reported a gunman, traveling from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, who retrieved his legally obtained and checked weapon from baggage claim and commenced an assault on travelers at Hollywood International Airport, killing five and wounding eight others.   Sadly, while many will remember this attack is in the same state that we saw 2016’s massacre of 49 at Orlando’s Pulse night club, this actually is the same metropolitan area that sees gun violence on a nightly basis.  Just a quick search of the local news in the Fort Lauderdale area over the last week will show over a dozen cases where someone has been victimized by gun violence, including the elderly, a pregnant woman and a child under the age of 10.  While tragic, Esteban Santiago’s rampage in Fort Lauderdale is just the latest of a long line of very public and prolific shootings in a country that has become prone to ignore what is now routine.

Broward County is not alone.  Gun violence affects practically every major metropolitan area in the country.  As I live and breath, I can guarantee you that the very night you read this or the night prior, someone within your daily driving commute has come face-to-barrel with a gun and has had their lives or their families lives changed forever.  In the time it takes you to read this, another American will have been shot by a gun.  By the end of the hour, an American child will be shot by a gun.  Combined with the one shot at the beginning of the hour, 17,000 children are shot on a yearly basis in America.  If an American woman dies unnaturally, it is more likely than not that she was shot to death by a man she knew, and that’s more likely than not to be by an intimate or domestic partner.

Make no mistake about it:  America has a gun problem.

It is a plague on American life no different than cancer or influenza, but only more efficient.  And while gun violence is as cherished of an American tradition as popping fireworks on Independence Day, our unwillingness to deal with the problem is not.  Very early in our nation’s history, America has prohibited certain individuals from owning firearms, African Americans, Native Americans and women among them.  Throughout the 1800’s when American life was thought to be at it’s gravest threat in the “Wild West”, frontier towns experiencing rashes of gun violence typically passed laws to ban any firearm within town borders.  As a matter of fact, the most notorious shootout in the Old West and probably in American history, the “Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral” happened because Wyatt Earp and his brother tried to enforce Tombstone’s ordinance prohibiting the carrying of firearms within city limits.

As the west tamed, gun violence would again become a plague on American life, this time in urban cities in the early 1900’s with the rise of organized crime and machine gun carrying gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson.  It took a deadly and brazen massacre by crime boss Al Capone for the nation to take notice and pass the National Firearms Act of 1934, which put limits on the types of weaponry that could be sold in America.  A few decades later, after the public assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, limiting who could sell firearms.  And a few decades after that, when a gunman shot President reagan and Press Secretary James Brady, this spurred the Brady Bill in 1993, which mandated background checks for individuals purchasing firearms.

Every time in America history gun violence has impacted American life, our lawmakers have reacted.  Until now.  The last update to our firearm laws was an amendment that banned individuals convicted of domestic violence from buying or owning firearms.  That was twenty years ago.  Since then, the debate over Gun Control has only intensified, most notably due to the mass murder of 23 children in Connecticut and the aforementioned murder of 49 Americans in Orlando among dozens of other high-profile massacres committed with firearms.  The Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting is only the latest salvo.  Sadly it will not be the last.

What gives our nation the most resistance is the profound and intense ignorance of our gun laws that give cover to a congress more concerned with political ramifications than they are with common sense, human decency and the will of the American people.  Gun rights advocates are willing to believe that criminals will obtain guns no matter the restrictions, so passing any restrictions would only hurt “law abiding” citizens.  Although this logic ignores several facts like these laws are not simply for prevention, but for punishment as well, but they also ignore the fact that guns do not appear out of nowhere.  This isn’t a video game where a criminal just punches in a cheat code to get any gun he wants.  Nor is it the Matrix where they just dial a number and an aisle of guns show up for their choosing.  They get their gun from private sellers without a background check or stolen from irresponsible “law abiding” citizens with very little consequential redress.

The unfortunate perception that has become a political reality being fed to gun advocates by an agenda driven lobby is that the government is trying to universally disarm all Americans leaving them vulnerable to criminals and the government alike.  Nevermind the fact there is nothing a .38 Special can do to stop what the U.S. military has at it’s disposal, there is no rational basis for this belief.  Even if it were practical, which it isn’t.  However, this has lead us to an environment where the very perception of “Gun Control” is interpreted as absolute disarmament.  It is this ignorance, that there isn’t EVERY reason and very real and historical precedent to prevent certain individuals from obtaining firearms, it is impractical and impossible to cure this plague upon our nation until we’re able to recognize we are indeed at risk and have every reason to do something about it.  And all it takes is the political will that has gripped our federal government in standstill.

Even the most stringent gun advocate, who may think every American should be issued a side arm at birth will probably tell you that it’s probably not a good idea to let unrepentant murderers obtain guns.  They would also be comfortable with extending such restrictions to terrorist, non-citizens and those considered mentally ill or mentally dependent.  The latter of which often bears the brunt of the blame of gun violence in America.  However, while that might be a reason for mass murderers, it does nothing to address what happens on a nightly basis in American cities.  Of course you would not only have to believe America has more mentally ill than any other 1st world nation, but you would also have to wonder why those same advocates continuously try to cut social services, health services and repeal healthcare laws that assist those individuals, but that’s another story.

In any normal pretense, if you are ill, you take medicine to make yourself better.  However if you are ill and are unwilling to even admit to there being an illness, you cause yourself more pain.  As a nation, we are causing ourselves more pain by not addressing this illness.  If Chinese alchemist from a thousand years ago thought to use gunpowder for purification purposes, in 2017, we have to begin to purify our society.  We must recognize that we are ill and work towards getting better.  The sad truth of the matter is our attention is easily diverted elsewhere.  We see as the weeks and months past, terrorist attacks in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and recently Germany and France, have plagued these nation.  And each time we see these attacks, our resolve to combat terror and extremism grows stronger.  But yet, our lawmakers refuse to lift a finger to combat gun violence, which effectively turns certain American cities to comparable warzones.  If we can recognize what plagues their nations and act accordingly, why do we refuse to see what has infected our own?