In his "I Have a Dream"  speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." It is during this time of year that we, as Americans, ask ourselves how close are we to achieving this ideal espoused by Dr. King. Do we live in a country that has transcended the brutally ugly -- and often violent -- racism that has in many ways defined our country during much of its history?
It is tempting to answer "yes," and to highlight, as evidence, many of the achievements and gains over the last several decades, including the election of that "skinny kid with a funny name " to the White House. Yet the sad reality remains that even more than 45 years after Dr. King's speech, far too many people living in this country are still defined not by their character or abilities, but by their racial and ethnic background.
A few recent statistics tell the story:
These alarming and discomforting statistics should not cause us to lose faith in the ideal that Dr. King espoused on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial decades ago. Rather, they should serve as a reminder that despite the progress that has been made, Dr. King's dream has not yet been realized for millions of Americans. They also should serve as a challenge: that we use this day not merely to reflect on the legacy of a slain hero, but that we also take it as an opportunity to address the inequalities and discriminations that still permeate our society.
And that is a challenge that people of faith are particularly capable of meeting. After all, it was Dr. King's faith that gave him the courage to stand in the face of deeply entrenched racism and demand justice. It was his faith that allowed him to persevere when all outward signs probably told him to stop. It was his faith that allowed him to understand the essential truth that while "we must accept finite disappointment, [ ] we must never lose infinite hope."