By LaKeshia Myers
“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” (King, 1963).
In 1963, Dr. King delivered what many consider to be his most famous oration. The speech, originally entitled, “Normalcy Never Again”, is known across the globe as the “I Have a Dream” speech; which was taken from Dr. King’s extemporaneous rhetorical detour under the unction of the holy spirit. While the average reader gets swept up into King’s description of his dream, the preceding paragraphs outline Dr. King’s discontentment with the state of affairs for Negroes in the 1960s. After re-examining this speech, I believe the words of Dr. King are still true.
Fifty-seven years later, African Americans still lag behind in most statistics used to measure quality of life, life expectancy, and educational attainment. In Wisconsin, a state comprised of only seven percent African Americans, we have consistently been deemed the worst state in which to raise a black child (USA Today, 2018). These struggles persist even though defacto segregation was outlawed and civil rights/anti-discrimination court rulings have become somewhat commonplace. Yet, the debt of America’s bad check still remains.
The progress championed in the late 1960s, 70s, and 80s has slowly eroded. It is consistently being chipped away through judicial activism, partisan gerrymandering, restrictions to the ballot box, and the political impotence of elected officials. In 2020, we must wake up; we can no longer afford to be passive dreamers. We must activate our role in the body politic by registering to vote, running for office, getting or staying engaged with the issues that matter most to our families, and holding all elected officials accountable for the decisions they make.
We no longer have to rely on a single leader to spearhead or champion our cause; we each have a role to play—we each have the agency and the acumen to get involved. James 2:17 says, “faith without works is dead”—faith was having a dream; doing the work (voting, engaging, teaching, learning, volunteering, etc.) ensures that we can collectively use our voice to demand America, the state of Wisconsin, and the city of Milwaukee recompense their debt to our community with certified funds. We can no longer accept personal checks—they have the tendency to bounce.