"There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths and downright ignorance."
— Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Wednesday will mark 33 years since we were supposed to be galvanized by change and charged with ideals. Thirty-three years is a long time — long enough to have made more substantial progress than we have in the realms of housing, health care, equal pay, human rights and relations between races.
In fact, it's been so long that I almost forgot. I almost forgot why Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lived and I nearly lost sight of why he died.
See, as the years melt past, it's easy to forget about the heft his words carry. Time dims the images of dogs, fire hoses, "Colored Only" signs, marches and beatings.
That's because I walk around today arrogant, inflated with the belief that I'm allowed anywhere to do anything I damned well please. King's legacy did that to me. It told me that I could be anything I desired.
But racism, the long arm of society's evil relative, undermined my confidence more than once.
Even that was sidestepped because of grace, opportunity and sheer will.
But that's an individual testimony. God takes people from us, because it's time for a lesson, and with King's death the lesson is daily being overlooked.
Overall, I don't see many changes in and among us since King was assassinated April 4, 1968. Sure, laws have reversed. We can vote, we get good educations and jobs and we're able to live pretty much where we please. King has a national holiday, we get a day off work and parking meters are free.
But what of the softening of our hearts and the opening of our minds? Who has stepped up or into the vacuum left by King's death?
It is sad and depressing that there's been a weak stream of leadership in general and black leadership specifically in 33 years. We've been bombarded and bored by little more than black buffoons and white, tight-fisted misanthropes all along.
Meanwhile, the success and abundance of wealth we enjoy since King's assassination has been a cultural Catch-22. The more we're allowed, the less we allow, while the minutiae of our culture proceeds on cruise control.
"Love" and "happiness" are four-letter words, and the incessant need to succeed blights out the human touch of caring and compassion. This is a cold place King left us.
Freedom has afforded us the rights to move on up like the Jeffersons, and in doing so, we've moved away from one another. This is true of whites and blacks.
Whites, in an attempt to protect themselves and their families from everyone else, move to the outer reaches of suburbia and then are frightened and frozen with disbelief when their children begin turning on each other.
Blacks, in an attempt to prove to everyone how much we're worth, move to the black section of the outer reaches of suburbia and then are flabbergasted and mired in denial when our children grow up in the swirling confusion of an identity crisis.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't live where we want. It's how and why we live where we want that's troubling.
What we've forgotten — or mistaken or even misunderstood — about King's legacy is that its bedrock is collaboration. He longed for collaboration between different races, people of disparate socioeconomic standings and people of all experiences. King wanted us to network — not for jobs or stock tips, but for change.
How many of us do that? How many of us, when we get to where we think we're supposed to be, turn back to bring someone else along?
Pervasive among us blacks is makin' it and takin' it. We get through the door and lock it tightly so no one else can get in. And once we get in, if there's another black or two present, we're paranoid they're there to knock us out the box. To that I say send the elevator back down to pick up someone else.
None of this is meant to be hero worship.
Much has been made about King's fallibility as a man and a husband. He wasn't perfect, and I'm confident he was no angel. But none of that can overshadow what he stood, worked and died for.
And we are miles from what he died for, from what he dreamed of. And we have miles to go before we'll dream as big again.