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Letters to My Son: Marching on from Washington to Damascus to Cairo, My Hopes 50 Years after 1963’s March

By Talib I. Karim*Image

Son, so for the record, on August 28, 1963, when the first famous March on Washington took place, I was not yet born.  In fact, your granddad Talib and grandma Linah did not meet until the summer of 1968.  However, I’m told that mama Linah, a former Jet Magazine centerfold model turned activist, did attend the ’63 march and on the next day, gave birth to your uncle Tony in a Maryland hospital.

Thus, for me, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is not only symbolic but also sentimental.   Yet, for all the progress in the last 50 years, the march is also a very real, and painfully disappointing reminder, that Dr. King’s dream…remains…just that, a dream.

True, we have an African American President, a Harvard educated constitutional law scholar and community organizer born to an African Muslim father and Anglo American mom.  And yes, Obama shares the White House with his African American wife and two teen girls, Malia and Sasha.

The Obama’s are not the only African Americans in the White House.  Even though his government is not quite a mirror of the nation’s rich diversity, the President has tapped other people of color for his team. 

In 1963, not only did few African Americans even dream of working in let alone living in the White House, we were also largely locked out of residing in many “White Only” neighborhoods throughout the nation.  Today, with very few exceptions, the only color that matters in purchasing or renting a home is green (i.e., cash or credit).

Despite the strides in employment, education, housing and other social indexes that African Americans have made, many argue that these gains are largely superficial and that America is just shades better, if not worse than it was 50 years ago.

In the nation’s capital, both poverty and unemployment are higher today than they were in 1963, according to Marion Barry, four-time DC Mayor, who in the 60s, led the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Also, while the US is #1 in building jails, and raising men and women to occupy them it ranks # 48 in the quality of its math and science education.

On the civil liberties front, many contend that the public enjoys less freedom today than 50 years ago.  Not only is the government spying on civil rights leaders, like it was doing to Dr. King, Al Hajj Malik Shabazz and other 60s activists, but according to brave whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) public surveillance is sinister enough to resemble a science fiction movie, but is all perfectly legal according to the Justice Department.

Finally, the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder case involving the shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin is proof positive that not only do Dr. King’s children live in a world that judges them more by their skin color than character, but sadly his grandchildren are also citizens of a society and world community that remains a largely race-based caste system.

As an advocate and writer, my work focuses mainly on local and national issues such as expanding our nation’s ranks of scientists and engineers or even building an environmentally sustainable (green) health center in an underdeveloped neighborhood of DC.  However, as a Muslim American, my mind and heart are occasionally pulled towards international affairs. 

While Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis (in the hometown of my father, who actually served as an aide to Dr. King during the sanitation workers strike), the civil rights leader’s mind and heart were also internationally focused.  A year before a sniper snuffed out King’s life, the Nobel Peace Prize winner suggested that the US was the greatest purveyor of violence in the history of mankind. Sadly, in the five decades after the March, our nation’s number one status in this category has remained intact.

Drone strikes in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.  Possibly instigating a civil war in Syria, that can only mean moral and financial ruin to its people.  And supporting the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Egypt, who came to power in a revolution that many claim was inspired by Obama’s very own speech to the Arab people in 2009.  These are among the evidence which paints a clear picture that Dr. King’s vision of racial harmony and world peace remains not only a dream…but perhaps even an illusion.

However, like my parents, I remain hopeful.  I still believe in President Obama’s favorite quote from Dr. King’s writings, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

So with my head and hope bloodied but unbowed, I plan to March on Washington on August 28, 2013.  And while I march, I plan to pray…prayers not only for true freedom, equality and justice, here in Washington, DC, but also in Damascus, Cairo, and everywhere throughout this world.

Son, I share Dr. King’s dream, and remain prayerful that one day our dream will become reality.

Talib I. Karim is a lawyer, political strategist, and writer of a soon to be released book: “Letters to My Son, a Father’s Lessons on Love, Law, and Science.” The writer can be contacted at talib@talibkarim.com.