Monday, August 22, 2011

A Dream in the Ozarks

This Sunday will be the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King's visit to Washington D.C. to share his dream and to 'cash a check.' Speaking truth to power, he chose his words carefully. With the world watching, standing under a sweltering, late August sun, Dr. King courageously faced centuries of systemic racism, saying:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Dr. King knew well the 'architects of our republic' were slave owners, yet he would take these men and their ideas of freedom and justice at their best, interpreting their intentions as a 'sacred obligation' to include every American in the dream of a land of opportunity. The irony is striking now, as I think about Dr. King's 'cash a check' metaphor in light of the economic storm raging around our nation and our world. King's words should serve to remind us today that there is a kind of bankruptcy that is even more toxic than the financial variety.

Here in the Ozarks I am grateful that our diversity is rising and our welcoming deficit is diminishing. Yet, as civil rights veterans know, progress toward Dr. King's dream is often three steps forward and two steps back. Case in point: the petition offered by the Ozarks Minutemen to Springfield City Council. This petition cloaks an anti-immigrant agenda. It attempts to appeal to strongly held values of law and order, but the effect of this petition, intended or not, is to legitimize attitudes of discrimination and racism, especially against our Hispanic neighbors. I only hope Springfield City Council members will see this petition for what it really is - a step backward for everyone who lives and works in the Ozarks.

To my Ozarks neighbors - to all whose presence signifies to me God's love for the diversity of the human family - may you keep believing with Dr. King, that our nation's "great vaults of opportunity" are indeed abundant. The Ozarks is an even better place to live, thanks to your great faith, your resolute hope, your dream to call the Ozarks home.

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