Listening to President Obama give his farewell address in front of 20,000 people, reminded me of November 2008 when he won the election. I remembered the pride and hope I felt watching him speak at Grant Park in front of a sea of people.
In this speech, he reminded us that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, come together and demand change. He said that it is true that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, while these rights are self-evident, they have never been self-executed.
President Obama stated that America is exceptional, not because we are flawless, but because we have shown the capacity to change. He said there would be a peaceful transfer of power, because that is the hallmark of our democracy; but it is up to us to make sure that this democracy works for all of us. President Obama went on to say democracy does not require uniformity, but it does require a basic sense of solidarity. He reminded us that we are all in this together, we will rise or fall as one nation.
A few days after the president’s address, I cried while reading an article in the Boston Globe, written by reporters Akilah Johnson and Jan Ransom. The reporters had conducted a series of interviews with black teens from Ferguson, Baltimore and Boston, questioning them on how they were feeling about President Obama leaving office and the new Trump’s administration.
The teens saw Obama’s presidency as proof that the impossible is possible. They talked about their own dreams, but at the same time struggled with a country that would elect and re-elect a black man for president, yet be indifferent to the slaughter of young black men by police. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan Mc Donald, Tamir Rice, Paul O’Neal, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, and countless others were murdered during the term of President Obama. How could things possibly be better for them under a President Trump, who they saw as racist, a man with no filter, whose campaign tapped into something caustic, that has divided the country.
These teens shared their fear about their futures. They doubted that they would be a priority in a Trump Administration and questioned their place in America. They said they were trying to survive and not be perceived as a threat. They saw President Obama as a black man who defied the odds.
The optics of going from Barack Obama to Donald Trump is stark. Once again, I felt compelled to go back and read and review some of Dr. King’s writings. In 1964 Dr. King wrote the book “Why We Can’t Wait”. The book largely reproduced the text from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” with some editorial changes.
King says, “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that time is always ripe to do right.”
In the book Dr. King asserts that all Americans were involved in the death of John Kennedy; by tolerating hate, tolerating violence, and tolerating the different application of the law. How then can we be any less complicit in the deaths of Trayvon, Eric, Tamir and the countless other senseless deaths, where no justice has been meted out?
The other night President Obama told us that our democracy crumbles when we give in to our fears. Fifty years earlier Dr. King told us sometimes it will be necessary for the moral individual to take a stand that is neither safe or popular, but must be done because it’s the right thing to do! We must dig deep and capture the spirit of those brave foot soldiers; because only then will we continue that forward motion to a more perfect union and a more just nation.