As thousands gathered on the Mall of Washington last Saturday, August 26, to continue the fight for social justice and civil rights, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington, it was clear that it remains unsafe to be Black in America today just as it was 60 years ago.
The sixty years of progress that we hoped to celebrate, well, put a pin in that. Dr. King’s 1963 dream of a nation that would “rise up and live up to its creed” is a dream that continues to be hijacked by those who believe that all men and women are not created equal.
The Declaration of Independence, that revered document written in 1776 granting all its citizens unalienable Rights – rights that cannot be given or taken away; the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness remains elusive for Black people.
Black Americans feeling unsafe were validated one day after the 60th Anniversary commemoration when a white gunman with a swastika-emblazoned assault-style, legally purchased rife decided that his hatred of Black people was so great that he would find a group of Blacks in the Jacksonville, FL, area to kill. And he did.
The gunman, whose name isn’t worth a mention in this article, killed three innocent Black people who were out on Sunday, August 27, taking care of their business, pursuing their liberty to shop at a Dollar General in a predominately Black neighborhood; Angela Michelle Carr, 52, Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19, and Jerald Gallion, 29, lost their lives because the shooter hated the color of the skin they were born with.
“He hated Blacks, and I think he hated just about everyone that wasn’t White,” said Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters. “He made that very clear.”
What makes this tragedy sadder, if that’s possible, is the gunman’s intentional search for Black people to kill; first, he went to a Family Dollar where he purchased items, and as he returned to his car, a security vehicle appeared and parked in front of the store. The gunman drove away.
He then drove to an HBCU, Edward Waters University, setting his sights on students arriving to begin the school year, those in pursuit of enriching their lives through education. A student flagged down security because the man “looked out of place.” Oblivious to his true intentions, campus security told the would-be shooter to leave and followed him until he left the campus. A possible crisis was averted for those students, but the shooter remained persistent and moved on to Dollar General.
After the shooting, Florida Governor and GOP Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis pledged to give Edward Waters University $ 1 million to strengthen the school’s security, passionately stating:
“We are not gonna allow our HBCUs to be targeted by these people,” DeSantis said.
I thought again of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he explained why the command of Jesus to love one’s enemies was not “the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer” but the words of a “practical realist.”
“Put us in jail, and we will go in with humble smiles on our faces, still loving you.” I’m sure Edward Waters University appreciates the money, Governor DeSantis.
The co-conveners of the 60th Anniversary Commemoration, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and Dr. King’s Drum Major Institute did not relinquish their call to action – pushing back old and new injustices.
A highlight of the speakers at the Commemoration was the 15-year-old granddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Yolanda King. She began her address with an apology to her late grandfather.
“If I could speak to my grandfather today, I would say I’m sorry we have to be here to rededicate ourselves to finishing your work and ultimately realizing your dream,” she said. Today, racism is still with us. Poverty is still with us. And now, gun violence has come to places of worship, our schools, and our shopping centers.
What an indictment against our nation. Progress in those areas is unbelievably lacking and, at times, standing still. Dr. King did dream of a different country for his 15-year-old granddaughter. He had such high hopes for us.
Rev. Al Sharpton, as only he can, summed up the state of the nation perfectly:
“Sixty years ago, Martin Luther King talked about a dream. Sixty years later, we’re the dreamers. The problem is we’re facing the schemers. The dreamers are fighting for voting rights, and the schemers are changing voter regulations in states.”
“The dreamers are standing up for women’s right to choose. The schemers are arguing whether they are going to make you stop at six weeks or 15 weeks,” Sharpton said.
I thought again of the words of Dr. King as he sat in a Birmingham, AL jail after being jailed and labeled an ‘extremist,” and wondered if that’s our call to action. Must we become extremists, demanding that our nation protect us from racial hatred and violence, sending a clear message to those who hate us and act criminally on that hatred that they will be punished for acts of evil.
Dr. King did not like the extremist label until he pondered what it meant.
“Was not Jesus an extremist for love?” King asked. “And Abraham Lincoln: This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” “And Thomas Jefferson: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” We are extremists in some ways, but the question is, what kind of extremist will we be, and what will we tolerate as a nation? Will we be extremists for hate or love, and will we only accept extremists for love?