The nation today and this past week has been celebrating perhaps the greatest speech ever given by an American. We are upon the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s address at the Washington Memorial.
I was only 13 at the time, and the world had not yet come into focus for me. I was a little kid more worried about how the New York Mets were playing than how freedom riders in Selma, Alabama, were making out. Some of my heroes were Negro Americans, but only if they could run like Jackie Robinson, catch like Roy Campanella, or pitch like Don Newcombe.
As I got a bit older, and began my undergraduate studies at Hofstra University, I came to understand the civil rights movement was everyone’s battle. I came to appreciate that by breaking racial barriers in baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Branch Rickey were not only improving the game, but also making American history.
Americans may have feared the 1963 march on Washington might lead to violence. Some argued Negroes were asking for too much too soon. Dr. King, on the other hand, effectively pointed out that Negroes were denied equal rights too often for too long. He was right and white America was wrong. Today, we acknowledge that truth.
So it is and will be with gay rights. Only a few years ago, our own activists deplored the push for marriage equality as asking for too much too quickly. The truth is though that the suppression of equality has been unacceptable for too long. Our cause is just and our battle continues.
We may have won the right for gays to serve in the military or get married in some states, but until that happens in all 50, you have work to do. Until your tax exemption is the same as a heterosexual couple, you still have work to do. Unless your city is providing the same partnership benefits for the LGBT community as it is providing for married straight couples, you still have work to do. Equality has no deferral date.
You are living in a community where AIDS is still spreading too rapidly amongst our youngest citizens. It is a disease that has ravaged the gay community, and spread decades ago because our government did too little for too long. Why? The perceived victims were gay men. We were second-class citizens who did not matter. Those days are over.
This week, my dear friend, Congressman Alcee Hastings, cut the ribbon for a new AIDS Healthcare Foundation Center in the heart of Fort Lauderdale. An African American, Congressman Hastings knows the toll that HIV has taken on minorities in this country. He is aware that our government needs to do still more, and personally fought in the past few years for millions of dollars in ADAP funding. The battles go on.
Congressman Hastings is 77 years old, and he was a guest of AHF’s president, Michael Weinstein, who later that day would fly to Uganda, where both gays and HIV are a social anathema. Michael Weinstein will advocate for treatment and healing, hope and not hurt.
In their own way, 50 years after Dr. King’s speech, both men are still preaching his dream, waiting for the day when “every valley shall be exalted and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.”
Few of you know this, but Alcee Hastings was one of the first public officials in the history of Broward County to advocate for the rights of gay men and women in the early 1970’s, when the cause was too silent and too few voices were heard anywhere. He has always understood that discrimination comes in many colors, from denying bi-national couples marital rights to unjustly locking up too many minorities for victimless drug crimes.
Dr. King tried to teach us we all have one color. And he was right, because the rainbow belongs to every American. One day, maybe we will all be able to sit down at Dr. King’s “table of brotherhood,” Maybe one day this nation will stop oppressing its poor, its minorities, and its disenfranchised, and embark upon a day when we will transform ourselves into an “oasis of freedom and justice.”
For that day to come, Miami cops will have to stop tasing and killing teenage graffiti artists, and mayors will have to stop sexually assaulting their secretaries. The NSA will have to stop spying on our citizens, and the CIA will have to stop torturing prisoners at Guantanamo. Kids will have to stop shooting each other in our schoolyards, and schools will have to cultivate mental health programs.
A neighborhood watch won’t lead to a white kid shooting a black teenager but instead it will protect a young child from a sexual predator. Southern politicians won’t erect roadblocks to voting rights for minorities, and the United States Senate will recognize that out of millions of immigrants today, one could become a president tomorrow.
The bottom line is that even though 50 years have passed since Dr. King’s speech, we all still have much to dream about. There are causes always worth fighting for, from Syrian refugees living in desert encampments to 50,000 dogs abandoned on the outskirts of Detroit. There is more to do than worry about Miley Cyrus and the way she dressed at the Video Music Awards.
Find your passion and make it happen. Make your life matter. It is the only one you got, and while the future may lie beyond your vision, it is not beyond your control. Norm Kent