50 Years Later: A Dream Not Yet Fully Realized

lutherking

Fifty years ago today, Dr Martin Luther King Jr stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and shared with us his dream for our great country.  It was a fairly simple dream in that all he wanted was equality for all.  He wanted love to rule over hate, and for his own children to live in peace with white families.  So simplistic and beautiful, but has his dream been fulfilled?

In part, yes.  Under the law, everyone of every race is viewed as equal.  My daughter plays mostly with the neighbor kids who are black, and has no concept any difference other than their skin is different colors.  There are laws in place designed to give protections to Blacks in order for them to receive equal opportunities.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

But racism is not dead.  It’s far from it.  Hate crimes happen every day against all groups within our society.  It’s not just a crime against skin color anymore.  And even with the nations first Black President in office, racism is still flourishing in all corners.  Progress has been made, as is evident with President Barack Obama, but we still has so far to go.

Fifty years later, Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians have the highest rates of poverty with unequal access to the very things that improve and better an individuals place in society, like education and pay.  Inner cities, where minorities are the majority, have the lowest performing and underfunded school systems.  This is also where poverty flourishes.  Women are still fighting for equal pay to that of their male counterparts, as well as the right to govern over their own bodies.  Homosexuals are still fighting for marriage equality, and the same benefits for their families that heterosexual couples receive.  Muslims, and people who are mistaken for Muslims, are hated and discriminated against because of the actions of a few.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is no finger-pointing here.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  We all have a share in the progression of equality.  A truly free society, in my opinion, is one in which equality is second nature.  Everybody has the same access to the important things, such as healthcare and education.  Instead of a dark cloud of hatred, a beautiful light of love shines down on everyone.

That may be only a dream, but it’s a dream worth making a reality.  Let’s reflect on the last fifty years.  All the progress, the steps backward, and the path that lie ahead of us in order to reach that dream.  Dr. King’s dream should not go unfulfilled.  His words and actions should be remembered for generations to come, and not taken for granted until his dream has been realized.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you wish to read Dr. King’s speech, and I think everyone should today, you can find it HERE at the National Archives.  You can also listen to him give his historical speech here in this video:

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Knowledge Is Power: Anxiety, Fear of the Unknown, and Islam

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”

Kofi Annan, Where On Earth Are We Going

Today I have been facing a lot of anxiety.  The news reports are not pretty (when is it ever), and there seems to be so much violence and anger in the world as of late.  600+ deaths in Egypt yesterday, murders, rapes, kidnappings, etc stateside, and who knows what else that isn’t being widely reported.  The most widely reported news as of late are the events in Egypt, the bombings in Iraq, and other unrest among the Muslim world.  With all this negativity, it’s no wonder there is such a negative view of Islam around the western world.

I have always took pride in being accepting of other people’s religions, culture, etc.  I love learning about how other people live their lives, and why they do the things they do.  I used to want to major in Anthropology before I realized it was a dead-end field unless you had a PhD.  With that pride in acceptance came anxiety and guilt today as I tried deciding what religion I wanted to use for my project in my Sociology of Religions course this term.

In this course, we have been asked to choose a religion, and attend a religious service.  We must interview members of the service, and/or religious leaders of said service.  We must also study their religious texts, and write a ten page paper on the sociology of whatever religion we choose.

Now, I am not a religious person.  I do not agree with organized religion really, but I am very intrigued by it.  I have attended a Baptist service once, and have been to a number of vacation bible schools with friends.  However, I have never really participated or learned much about other religions, such as Judaism or Islam, at least outside of what Wikipedia or the media offers by way of knowledge.  I want to choose a religion I am unfamiliar with, and that I would imagine most Americans are unfamiliar with.  So I chose Islam, and from the moment of that decision, I have been racked with anxiety.crescent-200

It is not unheard of in this country to equate Islam with terrorism.  After 9/11, many Americans put the two together, and never separated them again.  The word terror has become synonymous with Islam, even though terror can be brought on by anyone, like Timothy McVeigh for example.  Regardless of this fact, when one thinks of or hears the word terrorism, Islam or Muslim is usually the first thing I hear come out of people’s mouths.

So, regardless of the fact that I know not all Muslims are terrorists, that fear is still in my mind.  I have always pushed it back because of the pride I carry of being an accepting individual.  When that fear came to surface today, my anxiety worsened.  How can someone who is so open-minded and compassionate feel such fear and anxiety towards a religion or people?  I found myself feeling disgusted with myself, all while battling the anxiety of having to put myself into this experience.

As the day went on, my anxiety dwindled for a few reasons.  One of those reasons is my reasonable mind.  I know not all Muslims are evil, so the chances of running into someone who is at this service are not very high.  Being in America, the chances are also not as high.  Sure, there are extremists everywhere you go, which can be said of any religion or culture, but since Islam is not as major in this country as it is in the Arab world, the chances (at least in my mind) are not as great.

Another reason is because I love the saying “Knowledge is Power.”  Part of my fear is the unknown and ignorance.  I only know what the media has told me, and what is portrayed.  In order to obtain a true understanding, I need to study and experience the religion for myself.  I need to meet the people, read the texts, and immerse myself in order to gain knowledge that will free me from the fear.  I was concerned about how Islam treats women, and worried for my safety or about being respected.  I understand women will be segregated from the men during prayers, and that I have to wear Islamic attire in order to attend, and that has given me some comfort.  I know what to expect now, and the man I talked to at the Islamic Center in Washington DC was respectful and understanding.  My mind has been put at ease by also discussing attire with a friend who has experienced it herself (Thanks Brooke!).

Brooke also gave me some good advice.  I should not be so concerned with being respectful that I would let the real experience pass me by.  I should relax, and completely put myself into it.  I should enjoy the experience, and learn what I can from the people around me.  My anxiety and fear got in the way of that at first, but now I am really happy with my choice, and looking forward to the experience.

I contacted the Islamic Center of Washington DC today in order to find out about times for prayer service, and if it would be acceptable for me to ask questions of the members.  He was welcoming, gave me the information I needed, and put my mind at ease, even if it was unintentional.  They seem welcoming of outsiders looking for clarity on Islam, and a letter on their website reinforces that.  This will definitely be an experience to remember, and I will share my experience after it happens.

Just remember, you can’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from doing anything.  Educate yourself, and that fear and anxiety will diminish.  Open your mind, and that is when you are truly free.

Knowledge is Power!

knowledge is power