Monday, January 19, 2009

From MLK to BHO: "Now is the time"

My father Vince was the same age as Martin Luther King and by all appearances that was the end of their similarities yet one of my earliest memories of my father was his tears that April 1968 that King was assassinated. Vince grew up in a middle class household on the south side of Chicago and left the Catholic church in his 30's. He left the mainline Protetestant church in 1968 when the minister refused to officially acknowledge the loss of King as a great leader.

Every MLK Day I think of my dad. As a kid in the 1970's I remember the rallies and picnics we attended for civil rights; the outings at the Unitarian Church to bring awareness. I wish I could say that we rallied every weekend, or that we spent time in jail due to protests, which we certainly did not. I remember the violence inflicted on black marchers at the hands of white racists in Marquette Park, the red-lining by realtors, the protests against bussing black kids into our schools. As a family we had little to gain or lose by the immediate cause of civil rights and my personal existence was sheltered from the repercussions of civil rights and its opponents.

But on a grander scale the movement has enriched our nation, and thus our own lives, in immeasureable ways. And my dad knew that. The sin is that it has taken so long and so much pain to achieve this moment.

Both King and Vince are gone. Tomorrow we will be inaugurating Barck Obama, a black man, as the 44th president of the United States of America. Obama is almost exactly the same age as myself and I wish my father were alive to see the continuation of the civil rights movement which he so solemnly supported just as so many of us also wish that Martin Luther King would be alive to celebrate his 80th birthday during this eventful week.

Barack Obama has not become president because he is a black man; he has become the president because he is the best person for the job. Like Jackie Robinson, the barrier has to be broken by an individual who is so starky qualified, so much better than the others, that he is launched into the role by an overwhelming sentiment. That is Barack Obama. Like Robinson, who entered Major League Baseball in 1947 as the first black player, Obama stands above the others who have vied for this position, and he possesses the demeanor to withstand the negativity.

Tomorrow we will go to the local theatre for the "Obama Inauguration Celebration" to watch my next president take the oath of office. An American celebration. And I will think of my dad. And I will think of MLK whose speech from four decades ago rings louder today than ever. Every word is pertinent to this moment.

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