Op/Ed By Elijah Cummings
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – During the holiday season people of all faith traditions recommitted ourselves to living our faith and forging a better world. We could not help but reflect upon the lessons that we learned in childhood about the eternal dream for peace on earth and goodwill toward all of humanity.
For me, these reflections are especially poignant as we approach the January 15 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth.
As a young student in the Baltimore of the late 1960s, with all of the daily disappointments and frustrations of growing up Black in America, I easily could have descended into a lifetime of anger, self-indulgence and despair.
I will be forever grateful that the liberating faith of my parents provided that young man with a different, far better foundation—a vision for the future that found encouragement in Dr. King’s example and his inspiring words.
Together, these forces for good helped me to find my moral compass as a human being—and as an American.
I offer this reflection because, once again, the shared humanity of our society is being challenged. Once again, the hardships, dissention and turmoil of our time could tempt even the strongest, most optimistic souls to doubt.
In all honesty, the experience of our lives calls us to acknowledge that such doubts are not irrational.
In an age when many Americans enjoy opportunities that would have been almost unimaginable in my parents’ youth, far too many of our neighbors continue to suffer from poverty, violence and the persistent fear that their country could abandon them to their peril.
The threat of terrorism magnifies our fears of violent crime. Powerful forces in our society threaten to foreclose our dreams of an empowering education, a secure retirement and life-preserving healthcare.
Extremism, partisanship, demagoguery, and xenophobia seek to dominate our public discourse and threaten the legal foundations of our society.
Even in an America that elected a Black man President of these United States, the virulent reaction of these last years has taught us that doubts about the viability of Dr. King’s Dream are not irrational. Yet, neither is it inevitable that our worst fears will be realized.
Personally, I remain convinced that Dr. King’s Dream can never die as long as his vison for America and our world remains the North Star in our hearts.
The lessons of our past remain our surest guide for the road ahead.
Today in the America of 2016, as it was in December 1967 when Dr. King gave his famous Christmas sermon on Peace and Non-Violence at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, “we have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere, paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night.”
Dr. King reflected upon the four years that had passed since the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and his now famous remarks about his Dream for America. He acknowledged that, in the aftermath of those stirring remarks, he had begun to see his dream for America turn into a nightmare.
He spoke of the four innocent young Negro girls who were murdered in a Birmingham church bombing, about the crushing poverty in our nation’s ghettos, about the riots in America and the horrors of Vietnam.
Dr. King acknowledged that he was not immune to our tendencies toward doubt and despair – that, personally, he was “…the victim of deferred dreams and blasted hopes….”
His answer to the negative forces in his own life remains an inspiration today—an affirmation of our shared humanity and non-violent, constructive change that we are called to act upon today.
As Dr. King counseled his congregation in 1967, we must continue to pursue our dream of a better America because we “…can’t give up on life.”
Here, in our home town of Baltimore, stirred by the upheaval of last year, we are coming together as a community to relearn this fundamental lesson—and I am hopeful that the shocks of last year are helping us to regain our sense of urgency.
Now, in 2016, Baltimore and America have some important choices to make—and some important reforms to undertake.
Throughout our community here in Baltimore, we are re-examining our responses to crime—and working to raise the expectations that law enforcement officers and the citizenry whom they are honor bound to protect must have of one another.
Perhaps even more significant, Baltimoreans from all walks of life are continuing to challenge the underlying inequities in our society, widespread injustice that must be addressed if we truly are to have peace in our community.
This is our living message—Dr. King’s message—to all who are burdened by the forces of doubt and despair about our future as a “blessed society.”
We are a great people who know, in the depths of our souls, that we can overcome all of life’s obstacles when we overcome our own fears.
In this knowledge, we can have confidence in our own competence to bring about constructive change.