Wednesday, August 28th will be the 50th anniversary of the "March on Washington," that seminal tipping point of the civil rights movement during which the country heard first hand the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I have a dream that one day this great nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."
The working title of Dr. King' s speech was "Normalcy - Never Again." The problem with normalcy is that we all conveniently buy into its inevitability. In 1963, many both in the North and the South bought into the inevitability of racism. It was normal that blacks sat at separate lunch counters, were limited in jobs, were barred from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, even in affluent neighborhoods up North, and were attacked by police dogs down South. Just as we were lulled into "normalcy" by restrictions at country clubs and by "boys being boys," as an excuse that condoned inappropriate sexual behavior, we were accustomed to the "normalcy" of racism. Dr. King was not.
President John F. Kennedy was initially skeptical about the March on Washington, but having been wowed by the words, he then immediately welcomed the March's leaders to the Oval Office, approvingly affirming to Dr. King that, "You have a dream."
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character... I have a dream."
Both Kennedy and Johnson bought into the dream. Within the following five years, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and legislation barring housing discrimination. Owen Ullman, managing editor of USA Today, who participated as a teenager in the March, called it "one of the finest moments of American democracy in action. People of all origins came together to peacefully petition their government to enforce the core concept of our founding...."
"This will be a day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning 'My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!'"
I've often wondered why, against the backdrop of more than one hundred years of racism from the Emancipation Proclamation to the March on Washington, Americans' collective conscience was piqued by Dr. King's dream. I've concluded that his vision resonated because it evoked and was in sync with the vision and values of America.
What Dr. King told us in 1963 was that the day-to-day practices of America were out of alignment with its vision and values. We knew in our hearts that was true, and a majority of America was embarrassed that our treatment of blacks didn't align with our core values and foundational belief in freedom and equality. To a certain extent, Dr. King guilted America into aligning our civil rights policies with our core values.
As a result, African-Americans have made significant strides in jobs, wages and education. No doubt, there is more advancement that needs to be made in closing the achievement gap in urban schools, seeking true justice in our courts, and overcoming the cycle of poverty. Those will come in time because Dr. King's words still resonate.
But as long as we continue just talking about race relations -- and as part of this, accusing people of being racist -- strides will not come fast enough. We need a new dream not just based on race but based on values. We need to re-imagine an America that lives the values we stand for. Here's why.
On any given day, 160,000 children will stay home because they fear they will be bullied. According to studies, between 35 and 50 percent of the American workforce is bullied. In any given year, more than 60 percent of teens cheat. In any given year, more than one-third of young women experience dating violence or sexual harassment. In Congress, there's incivility. In customer service, there's disrespect. In corporate America, basic courtesies such as returning phone calls have gone by the wayside. By any standard, these numbers eclipse racism. Perhaps it's time for a new dream?
In a recent study on love and forgiveness by the Fetzer Institute, a majority of Americans said that they want more love in their communities but are untrusting of others. In the workplace, a majority of employers report a dearth of social-emotional "soft skills" essential to healthy relationships and an emotionally healthy workforce.
I have a dream.
If America is free of racism but rife with bullying, sexual violence, workforce abuse and a meanness and edginess that is palpable in all corners, can we be proud of that America? Dr. King dreamt that his children be judged based on the content of their character. Let's dream of a nation that is more focused on character, a nation where values become the starting point for our actions, where our actions are more thoughtful and grounded in our shared aspirations.
Let's dream of a nation where more employers see a responsibility for the good of our nation, especially regarding employment and wages, not just for the community where their executives live; a nation that encourages long-term thinking and investment, not just a focus on the next quarter; a nation where the financial industry doesn't put us in jeopardy for another economic meltdown; a nation where profit and purpose are aligned; a nation where neighbors lift up neighbors and employers lift up workers to achieve their hopes and dreams; a "purple" America where Republicans join Democrats in working for the greater good, not just narrow interests or ideologies that get them elected; of elections that are not pre-rigged by partisan legislatures and ideologies.
Let's have a dream that our nation can be guided by the values of Fairness and Doing the Right Thing, juxtaposed with our national desire to Give Back. If we do that, freedom will prevail, racism and hate will recede, and the pursuit of happiness will come true.
"... And if America is to be a great nation, this must come true."
It's time for a new dream.
Purple America is a national initiative of Project Love/Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialog around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.purpleamerica.us.