OpEd: Let’s Do More to Advance the Dream

 

On Monday, January 15, I had the opportunity to attend the 30th Annual Crispus Attucks Community Center breakfast honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I, along with the over 700 other people in attendance, were inspired by those who share Dr. King’s vision and who annually acknowledge and celebrate his important contributions to America and all of our people.

This year I was particularly struck by the event’s theme, “And How Are the Children?” 

This is a traditional greeting used by the Masai in Kenya and was the focus of this year’s event.  As was explained to those that attended the breakfast, “the greeting acknowledges the high values and well-being of children, and it acts as a barometer to how our community and society is fairing.”  The goal, of course, is to be able to respond that, “All the children are well.”

Dr. King cared deeply about all people, and children in particular, so this was a wonderful way to honor all that he contributed to advancing our culture and people.  But it also invites us to consider the many challenges that continue to confront us, not only in how we relate to one another, but also in how we prioritize our young people.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a prestigious and awarded lecturer and professor, did an outstanding job marrying Dr. King’s vision for hope and opportunity with the current situation many young people find themselves in.

He spoke openly about the lack of employment opportunity that threatens the ability of young people to actively participate in the economy, achieve earned success and build wealth.  He correctly noted that the ability to find family sustaining work is one of the cornerstones to a productive and successful life.

Dr. Hill challenged us to consider what is happening in our communities. 

He offered – and I agree – that vibrant communities where our people are interconnected and valued is a pillar to helping advance the many common goals that we all share, including making sure that our children have a safe place to live, grow up and play.  One terrific example he gave was that for too many children, it is easier to find a liquor store around every corner in a neighborhood than it is for them to get fresh fruits and vegetables.

Another observation Dr. Hill made was that our society must place more emphasis on the family, and the importance of having caring and engaged parents.

No society has ever sustained itself without strong families, and one of the greatest challenges in our fast-paced and evolving culture is to make sure that we are fully engaged in meeting the needs of our homes, including promoting healthy marriages and raising children.

One of the key ingredients to succeeding in family-building, Dr. Hill offered, was to remain connected with young people by listening to them and trying to understand their perspective.

But perhaps the strongest argument that Dr. Hill made in support of Dr. King’s dream for children was that we have a high quality education system.

As we know, there is nothing more powerful in promoting the next generation of leaders than ensuring that our schools are equipped for and are delivering a high quality education.  Like a healthy economy, vibrant communities and strong families, schools are a key component to making sure that every young person has a genuine opportunity for success in life.

When discussing the importance of education, Dr. King said that, “intelligence plus character-that is the true goal of education.”  How true.

Today’s young people need both character and intelligence. 

Ted Darcus, the President of Crispus Attucks said it best.  “Education, which includes critical thinking skills and character building should always be a priority when it comes to our children.  It is imperative that education and character go hand-in-hand since one cannot reach its full potential without the other.”  I completely agree.

In memorializing the life of Dr. King, Dr. Hill did a terrific job in promoting what I have termed, “an opportunity society agenda.”

Since being elected to the Senate, I have been championing these very goals – an economy that works, vibrant and interconnected communities, strong families and high performing schools.

Like Dr. Hill and many others, I believe that if our government were to focus on promoting policies that achieve these goals, we could all benefit from a society where everyone – regardless of their station in life – can experience earned success and the greatness of what America has to offer.

Finally, I think it is worth mentioning that while I did not agree with all of Dr. Hill’s views, we do agree about many things, and I benefited from listening to him and thinking about what he had to say.

If we are going to solve the challenges of our day, if we are going to advance Dr. King’s dream, we have to be able to listen to one another.  We have to be willing to seek understanding even when we disagree.

I wish to thank Crispus Attucks for its commitment to advancing these principles which are so important to our young people and ultimately, our future. 

In honoring the legacy of a courageous American, Dr. King, we can carry forward his vision for our young people, so that when we are asked how the children are, we can all answer, “they are well.”