Monday, January 19, 2009

Something Old, Something New, & Something Yet to Be Determined

Reflection on the Legacy of MLK Jr, Former President Bush, & President Obama

Dr. King’s proud smile is all I can think about. On the heels of Martin Luther King Jr day, I can only wait in celebratory anticipation as our country’s highest honor will soon be filled by an American of color, but more importantly of high intellect and character. In landslide fashion it would appear that the dream of Dr. King has broken through as "the content of a person’s character outweighed the color of their skin". Yet my mind harkens back to the concept of legacy. Much has already been written about soon-former President Bush and President elect Obama but a legacy forms many years after the dust has settled.

I spent the morning rereading a few of Dr. King’s speeches. In them, as countless radio and television shows have documented today, a reader finds a voice of social consciousness – an immobile moral compass with a compassionate heart and prophetic calling to speak truth to power regardless of the consequences. Dr. King is etched in the annals of US history as a champion of the civil rights movement. A man who used non violent civil disobedience, encouraged social activism, and symbolizes the greatness of the American spirit. (Nonetheless after much controversy it was not until 2000 that MLK Jr Day was officially observed in all 50 states)

Often overlooked is the outspoken Dr. King - the anti-war advocate who sought to bridge the civil rights and peace movements in the mid 1960s. Often forgotten is the backlash Dr King received from the media and cherished supporters like the NAACP. In "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence", Dr. King stressed the weight of his Nobel Prize as one of the catalysts of his broader mission. In that address at the historic and storied Riverside Church in NYC, Dr. King’s full arsenal is on display as he inspires and challenges the congregation to think critically and compassionately. What does he use as his thought provoking device? It is none other than Vietnam’s history and the plight of her people. This too is Dr. King’s legacy. However King’s words and mission did not find much support because reconciling the truth is often a road too hard for many.

As President Bush affixes “former” to his title, writers and commentators have already begun the molding of his legacy. President Bush will undoubtedly be remembered for the catastrophe of Katrina, the 9/11 terrorist attack and the response (War on Terror, Patriot Acts, Gitmo, and Abu Ghairb all remain prominent), and the economic meltdown under his eight year watch, but there are meaningful positives that at times go unnoticed. The measuring stick for some will be that no terror attacks took place on US soil. Others, like Bill Frist(R), will point to the unprecedented and bold President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programming that has given hope and life to millions fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. I have personally witnessed and documented in this blog how PEPFAR funds have lifted entire communities and made the US a popular country in sub-Saharan Africa. Lastly it could be argued that Former President Bush helped pave the way for equal opportunity and a black President. In Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and Alberto Gonzales, Bush appointed citizens of color and different ethnicities to the forefront of his cabinet and the highest leadership roles in the country. He provided the younger generation with the belief that mobility is possible and the older generation with a more representative face of the country.

Some people may be quick to think the inauguration closes the book on the civil rights movement, but undoubtedly Dr. King would only think a chapter has closed. As President Obama assumes command of the Executive Branch of government, all that is needed is a glance into the failng inner city school systems, the minority filled prisons, and the heavily disproportinate HIV/AIDS statistics to understand Dr. King’s words would ring true. As history has shown and with many of Bush’s biggest initiatives unfinished, it will be at least a generation until his legacy is near complete. Yet another legacy, joined by the smile of a great American from above, is in the meantime off to an auspicious beginning.