Defending the American Dream
July Fourth is a good reminder of the dream that African Americans -- and all Americans -- can't afford to let slip away.
But what does the American dream mean to us in these times? As you prepare blankets and potato salad to celebrate another "Happy Fourth of July," are you truly pursuing it? How much do you appreciate that this is the promise of America -- a promise written in the blood of past generations but defined by the endless possibilities of future generations?
21st-Century Challenges to the Dream
This dream values the freedom of the human spirit to access fully the opportunities of America. But you and I know that this dream has often been delayed and often denied, and that in the 21st century, too many of our children awake each morning believing that it is anything but a dream, let alone their birthright.
We continue to pay a dear price each time we allow others to politically, socially or economically marginalize our dreams -- to sacrifice our future for their own present. Struggle remains the reality for far too many of us as we seek to empower ourselves and our communities through access to fair and affordable housing, capital and credit for our small businesses, and a ballot box that empowers us.
Moreover, the new reality we face now is that the racial lines of America are no longer as well defined as they once were. In fact, those lines are taking on new hues and textures as Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic groups begin to take their rightful place at our nation's table. America is changing.
But will we change with her? As the agendas of others continually push and pull at the nation's attention, how much longer will African-American leadership allow the black agenda to slip between the political gaps or to fall on deaf ears?
Take education: It affects everything that touches a child's life well into adulthood, and yet as the New York Times reported in November 2010, a study by the Council of the Great City Schools found that "black boys on average fall behind from their earliest years. Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and black children are twice as likely as whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In high school, African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT critical reasoning scores are on average 104 points lower."
Not only should this be unacceptable, even intolerable, to the black community, but we must also recognize first that it is un-American. It should be at the heart of the civil rights battle of the 21st century. But each day, more and more of our children fall prey to school systems more interested in what happens to bureaucrats than to teachers and students. Frederick Douglass said it plainly: "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them."
Our Problems, Our Solutions
I don't know who is to blame or where the problem started, but I do know that the solutions must come from us. If you live in Maryland, do you really expect someone who lives in Mississippi to solve your problems for you? Likewise, if black children lack the educational tools they need to compete and to succeed, do we really expect some other community of people to fight for and to provide such tools?