I woke up Monday morning, thinking about going downtown to participate in my local community’s Martin Luther King Day celebration activities. This included a day filled with recognizing scholarship award recipients, making and listening to speeches, and participating in a commemorative march in Honor of Dr. King. Sounds good. But just the day before, at an event sponsored by my sorority in honor of our organization’s Founder’s Day I found myself in a conversation with a sorority sister about the frustrating lack of progress in our communities. It became increasingly tiresome for me to hear the same old concerns about economic and educational disparities in one side of town versus another, increasingly frustrating to be a part of discussions about my political party, the democratic party, being completely out of touch with its base and ultimately out of office because we failed to make the necessary adjustments and to be responsive to concerns of citizens over the last two midterm elections and during the 2016 the presidential election. I lamented aloud the following:
“Why is it okay to stay in pain? Why is it okay not to move when the cheese has moved? When do we stop and say what we have been doing is not working?” The old saying goes that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome. In some ways, that is what we are doing as African Americans.”
So — while I did put on my black MLK and Obama commemorative T-shirt, and while I did post something in my social media stream wishing everyone a “Happy MLK Day,” accompanied by a video of Dr. King’s most famous quotes on Monday — I decided instead to spend some time penning these concerns which weigh heavily on my heart, concerns that I believe Dr. Martin Luther King and President Barack Obama would have also espoused and tracked for the nation.
As we come to the end of the most historic presidency in our time, the election of the first African American president, President Barack Hussein Obama, a gentleman who will be heralded as one of the greatest Presidents of all time in the history of United States of America; as we are seeing the long overdue recognition of the skills of more and more African American Oscar and Golden Globe winners and positive television images; as we are celebrating the phenomenal accomplishments of women athletes like Simone Biles and Serena Williams; as we are marveling in the intellectual brilliance and scientific acumen of people like Neil Tyson DeGrasse and Katherine Johnson, why don’t we, why can’t we do more to realize actual change and tangible improvement not just in African American communities across this country but especially in African American communities across this country?
I know first-hand, from working in the highest levels of government and in advancement of public policy for over 20 years, that change is hard, slow, and most times incremental. It requires an iron will, and sometimes a steel fist. It requires a determination that comes from knowing that the alternative is entirely unacceptable. I emphasize this requirement for perseverance in millennials who are preparing for and articulating their voices to address pressing policy issues in fresh and new ways.
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The familiar pre-amble to the United States Constitution is as powerful and pertinent today as it was in 1787. And as it was authored, African Americans were enslaved by other Americans. Sounds like ancient history? Possibly but if I clearly understand that I am today a part of the “We” in the Preamble, then I can say that I possess the authority today to act on each of these statements that were written 230 years ago, when then I as an African American and a woman would not have been able to do so.
Even though I personally am too young to remember the Civil Rights movement, I, for one, am not going to sit idly by and watch generations of the blood, sweat and tears of the ancestors go to waste because I do not exercise my authority under the Constitution. I am not going to let the promise of the Preamble be melted off of the parchment paper that it is written on because I don’t know or understand my authority under the United States Constitution as an American citizen. I am not going to allow my additional obligation that I am sworn to uphold the law of the United States be watered down, because there are forces at work that are attempting to test the validity of our nation’s laws and highest institutions. Nor should you. Not because I say so, but because you live here. Because you are an American citizen and because you believe in the promises of the Preamble of the Constitution and in the freedom that we have as Americans. Freedom is not free. Dr. King’s life and the lives of many of our servicemen and women, prove that every day. We are not perfect, but we are the greatest nation on earth and we cannot allow that to be destroyed out of ignorance, fear, complacency, laziness or hypocrisy.
Let’s take Dr. Martin Luther King’s example and ideas to heart, and take action. Commemorating is fine, but action is better.
Stephanie Mickle is an American attorney and the former General Counsel to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.