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Martin’s Dream

posted Jan 15, 2019, 4:24 PM by Kristin Snell

by Diana Pasquini, San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center

As I sit here in my cozy foothill home on the first day of this new calendar year, my thoughts turn to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American social movement that he came to personify. Dr. King’s dream, that one day people would be judged, “not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character,” resounds within me.

Back in 1956, when we had just moved from western Pennsylvania to Miami, Florida, which was not the sprawling international city that it is today, we had no car. One day my mother decided that we needed to explore the area by visiting Miami’s downtown. With me in town, she walked up our sun-bleached street to the nearest bus stop on Hwy 1. When the bus arrived and the doors opened, we ascended the steps, dropped our coins in the slot, and proceeded to find a seat. We had only traveled a block or so when the driver veered off the road, the bus lurching and bumping as it pulled to a screeching stop on the graveled shoulder. He turned, red-faced, menacingly glaring at the passengers. Neither my mother nor I had any idea of what had happened to inspire such a drastic response, but everyone else on the bus did. All eyes turned to me, a little white girl who had chosen to sit in the very last row of the bus. When he saw that the wide-eyed child wasn’t relocating, without further cues, he furiously growled, “Move!” The folks surrounding me on the “colored only” back seat whispered that I needed to get up and move forward, and do it quickly. That was my first experience of racism.

Although the law of our land no longer permits “WHITES ONLY” or “COLORED ONLY” signs on public toilets or drinking fountains, there is still a sense of separation that exists in our world today. Ageism, sexism, racism, and a general lack of tolerance may not be politically correct, but are alive and well. The girl in the back of the bus has spent much of her life struggling to understand the roots of prejudice. Years ago she concluded that consciousness of “The Other” is somehow built into human DNA, that in primordial times, such discrimination may have aided in the survival of our species. Perhaps there was a time when it was valuable to separate, fear, and eradicate based solely on superficial differences. The girl in the back of the bus wants to believe that, as our species evolves, that gene will diminish and one day disappear. She harbors the hope that once that nasty trait is gone, we will no longer be judged by our race, age, sex, religion, caste, class, culture, sexual orientation, politics, philosophy, economics, or any other superficial characteristic. And, in keeping with Dr. King’s dream, our judgment of the content of one’s character will consist of assessing our own character first.

If you are a person who makes resolutions at the beginning of a new year, perhaps you might consider infusing the spirit of Dr. King’s vision into your own. The girl on the bus would advise you to look at yourself and the world around you, then do whatever you can to help. As Dr. King said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”

 

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