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.


Steve said...


Some very good thoughts here. A couple of quick points:

-I think you hit on an important, almost paradoxical point. With Obama's election, it seems as if MLK's dream has been achieved, at least partially. However, things like prison rates, HIV statistics, the troubled school systems suggest that we still have alot of work to do.

Someone recently suggested to me that since Obama proved that a minority can be elected president, it may be time to abandon programs that target certain groups that are more at-risk than others "Because if Obama did it, it shows that anything is possible", and it's time to end efforts that help certain people in need (think Affirmative Action-type initiatives).

While Obama's election gives great hope, and does realize some of MLK's dream, it doesn't hide the inequalities you talked about.

-It's quite noble (and probably unpopular) of you to mention some positives from the Bush's presidency. I think opponents of Bush have made it trendy to just wholly dismiss his administration.

While I am not a huge Bush supporter myself, I'm glad you are open-minded and have the backbone to call a spade a spade. It's good to know that Bush helped make strides for HIV awareness and prevention. Kudos to him, and to you for helping bring that to light, in the face of many people ignoring any positives of Bush's eight years in office.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy your blog.



Betsy said...

well, I was going to write "good, nice job," but the person who wrote the earlier comment did a much better job. I agree with those comments.

how can we help our new President work to eliminate AIDS?

mmarinello412 said...


I think you provided interesting commentary on the meaning of the term legacy. Dr. King helped lay the foundation of the modern Civil Rights Movement. However, after he tragically left us, it was vital for our leaders and all citizens to build on his legacy. We can list numerous examples of people carrying out Dr. King's dream for our nation. However, I believe it was important that you specifically mentioned George W. Bush's accomplishments. Thirty-five years prior to his inauguration, many members of the Republican Party were at odds with the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King, himself. Although Bush will probably never be seen as a leader who helped close the racial gap in our society, I think you recognized the importance of a "conservative" Republican adding another building block to Dr. King's legacy.

Barack Obama's election victory is an even bigger building block. But as you write in your final paragraph, this momentous occasion does not signify the culmination of Dr. King's dream. It is up to President Obama and the rest of us to ensure that Dr. King's legacy continues to grow.

Marco, what have you heard about President Obama's plans for PEPFAR? I have read some stories on how he might continue the program, but without some of the abstinence-only initiatives. Is that true? Thanks, and keep up the amazing work.


Baird King said...

Wow Marco,
I had no idea you were up to so much and I have to say it is great to see! Your blog is very impressive and I will deffinitely be looking into it with more detail.
I have to echo what has already been said in the comment section about your words on president Bush. I also was not a Bush supporter but I am someone who believes it is important to focus on positives and reguard other areas as in need of change. Too many people only focused on complaining about negatives. Especially now that his presidency is over and we are in a time of change, it is important to consider all he did right (however much or little it might be).
Never the less, I thought Obama's speech was great and I am so excited about what lies ahead. I am working on my masters degree in geology out here in Cali with a focus on global climate change. It has become for me what it seems your work with HIV/AIDS has been for you (although not yet at the same level). It has provided me with some wonderful travel experiences and I am working on a program which combines social sciences with earth sciences to try to better educate the population about a problem which calls for unified cooperation of the global population; not just a manhattan project.
Anyway, I would love to hear some more about what you have done as it really sounds interesting. Keep it up and thanks for sharing it with me! I will pass on your blog to friends and family.

GeorgeD said...

Hello all!

I have to disagree with the sentiment that the "Dream" of Martin Luther King Jr. has not yet been reached. While I agree that it has yet to reach the apex of what the great preacher was speaking of, in all honesty, that day will probably not come in all its glory, at least any time in the foreseeable future.

I believe his vision was that one day we could respect each other and not base how we judged one another on the basis of our race. Yet, as we all know, racism still exists, and like I said, will for a long, long time. However, the fact that a man of color was elected to the highest office in a country where 40-50 years ago they weren't allocated the same rights as their white counterparts in any facet is an incredibly awesome and amazing thing in my eyes.

I am not looking to disregard anyone's opinion obviously, you all know I just like to play devil's advocate :).

But, in all honesty, I do believe MLK Jr.'s dream has come true in a very important way; it has inspired those who are non-white, or "minority" as we deem them, a person to look to and say, ANYTHING is possible in this country.

I've never been more proud of our country.

Thanks Marco for a great blog!