“Black people in America have never been optimistic, but we have always been hopeful, full of hope. There must be among us all a divine discontent, a constant irritant that can never be satisfied until we are where we are meant to be – and this is not that place.”
– The Rev.
Dr. Peter Gomes
Our community will come together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a matter of days, but if he could speak to us, he would voice dissatisfaction that we have yet to change our polarizing ways. To suggest that we have improved the current of our daily racial flow is to ignore the reality that the bar had been set embarrassingly low.
When Dr. King arrived in Fort Wayne, he found a black political class that had become accustomed to living in pain and with little hope of making any substantive gain. And yet, here we are 56 years later, and the need for his vision of America has never if ever been greater.
In 1963, there was only one black member of the City Council – and today still finds a sole one providing that august body with progressive counsel. Our city has enjoyed undeniable spurts of economic development since 1963, but today a large segment of our citizens still harbor a deep yearning to be set free.
Race relations have not flowered because people of color have yet to feel empowered. The passage of time has not washed away our grime, and we live in an environment where people feel emboldened to hurl derogatory and demeaning slime. Often, when asked how long it would take the promise of America to become its premise, in the cadence of the black Baptist preacher that he proudly was, Dr. King would often echo rhetorically “how long, not long.”
As a student of his philosophy for nearly half a century now, I am convinced that his response today would be “how long is long?” Is that not the question begging for an answer, in a day when we have seen a resurgence in racial cancer and no researcher has been able to secure a palatable answer?
How long is long when in a few months we will observe the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves brought to this country because their backs were strong, and today we have a prison industrial complex filled with young black men still singing that free labor song? How long is long, when people remain threatened by the color of your skin and adopt policies and procedures designed to prohibit you from securing a social or economic win?
As a nation, and more importantly as a community, we must answer this question if we hope to make the journey to equality more than some idealistic suggestion.
The primary reason America remains racially sick is because we have refused to adopt a uniform moral yardstick. Just when we think we have the majority's expectations figured out, they make some unilateral decision to establish a revised route. They keep moving the finish line, and worse yet, declare that we should just suck it up and stop our childish whine. Yes, Dr. Gomes was right, all we've ever had is hope and it has enabled us to cope in a society that has traditionally and perpetually attempted to strangle our future with some sinister rope.
The commemoration at the Embassy Theatre on Wednesday evening is our attempt to build a local sense of shared hope that will work untiringly to repair the damage done from travel on racism's slippery slope.
Because at the end of the day, I've always been convinced that hope is simply an acronym for that which all of us seek at our core, the expectation that opportunity will inevitably show up at our door. Hope is the engine that “Helps Oppressed People Endure!”
So, until there's a racial cure, these kinds of events will help us endure. Until we have leaders whose motives are pure, these kinds of events will help us endure.
Until the promises of life and liberty all of us secure, these kinds of events will help us endure.
The Rev. Bill McGill is senior pastor at Imani Baptist Temple.