Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

In light of societal changes, a dream still unrealized

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published August 29, 2013

Fifty years is a very long time—an entire generation according to some calculations. For our youngsters, 50 years may even define ancient history. I began considering what many of our children might be thinking regarding the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that we are observing this week during which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech. For some of them their own parents had not yet even been born. The world has changed significantly since those soul-stirring words were spoken. In 1963, there were approximately 190 million people in our nation. Today that number is over 310 million. So considering all those who may have died since then and all those who may have since been born, probably half of us were not alive at that moment in 1963. They were not witnesses of the world that was 50 years ago.

Even so, for those of us who were alive at the time and who can recall the world of 1963, there are many changes for us now to consider. The very complexity of the make-up of the U.S. has changed. We are clearly now a much more multi-cultured, multiracial, multiethnic nation. In 1963, we probably tended to view ourselves as simply a black and white society. The tensions that defined the then racial divide have definitely lessened, but regrettably not clearly disappeared. Our children now intermingle with an ease and a frequency that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. They go to school together, play sports together, socialize together, and face the dangers of horrific random violence together.

Abject poverty in this wonderfully prosperous nation is still a reality. Moreover, with the anonymity provided by social media, a few people can continue to distribute widespread racist hostility and vulgarity under the guise of freedom of speech. We have marked some historic achievements that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago with people of color now occupying offices and public responsibilities that we might have only fantasized about 50 years ago. Nevertheless, individual accomplishments have not completely fulfilled the dream that Dr. King proposed in his epic sermon at the Reflecting Pool. His dream was for a nation that was fully preoccupied with justice. Only 10 years after that famous sermon, our nation began the horrendous custom of permitting the killing of children within the womb. Soon thereafter, our country restored the death penalty, and we are now arming ourselves with weapons of frightening capacities for carnage. The dream of which Dr. King spoke has not been realized.

Undocumented people often live in our country with even less security and protection than did many black people 50 years ago. Still there is much from Dr. King’s dream with which we ought to take heart. Our young people have largely adopted the vision of a society of genuine equality. Educational opportunities have expanded so much so that some of the fine historic black colleges now suffer from an absence of students who are welcomed and aggressively recruited at other premier universities. Young people of color can now dream of being astronauts, diplomats, corporate executives, scientists, senators, president and even hierarchs! The dream horizons of our youngsters have certainly expanded.

My prayer is that with this obvious increase in possibilities, we will develop a generation of true leaders of the same caliber and integrity of those who led us so successfully 50 years ago but who lacked the opportunities that are now available to this generation.

For the wisdom of Scripture must not be forgotten: Luke 12:48: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”