Anthony is one of my heroes because, like all great heroes, he faced long odds and still managed to come out on top. Anthony will tell you that in his neighborhood, growing up, there were plenty of chances to allow the downward drag of a disadvantaged minority community to have its way. But for some reason--I'm convinced it has to do with pride in his heritage, coupled with the determination of his mother to keep her son on the straight and narrow--he made different choices than some of his friends. Anthony worked hard to get where he is, and that's just one of the reasons he enjoys the respect of such a wide range of the Abilene community. As a lifelong Democrat, I josh Anthony quite a bit about his move to the GOP, a few years ago. But I never question his dedication to his family, his community, his faith, and his duty as a public servant.
From time to time, Anthony asks me to look over the posts he prepares for the opinion column of the Abilene Reporter-News and other public outlets. Once or twice, I've helped him with a speech he needed to make. I count these opportunities as pleasures, because Anthony is my friend, and I believe in him and what he is trying to accomplish.
Anthony's following reflections on the upcoming inauguration of the Obama presidency strike me as particularly timely. I offer them now for your consideration...
Every year during the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we take time to reflect on his dream of equality for all citizens of this country. Additionally, many of us take an assessment of the progress made thus far and the challenges that still exist. For members of the African American community, this time of year is always filled with emotions. Some of those are positive feelings like gratitude, as we reflect on the increased opportunities that will be available to our children and grandchildren as a result of the sacrifice and perseverance of those who went before us. Some of the feelings, however, are sadness and regret, as we reflect on our forebears, to whom we owe so much, who never had a chance to see the dawning of a new day, who never enjoyed the gratification of seeing that for which they wished, dreamed, and labored, come to fruition.
Having said that, I want to remind readers of all ethnicities that the principles Dr. King espoused were intended to benefit everyone, not only the African American community. His overriding purpose benefits all of mankind.
In a few days, Barack Obama will be sworn into office as President of the United States, becoming the nation's first person of color to hold its highest office. It is difficult for me to put into words how this truly historic event has rippled through our society. Its ramifications have affected not only the African American community, but all those who, in decades past, considered themselves disenfranchised, left stranded by the receding tides of opportunity and equality. Mr. Obama's refrain during his acceptance speech--"Yes, we can"--has electrified whole segments of American society who, in times as recent as my own youth, scarcely dared to believe at all in their own ability and potential.
For my family, election night was an extremely emotional
evening. The emotions had very little to do with partisanship; in
fact, within our family there are both liberals and conservatives. As a matter of fact, I find myself opposed to some of Mr. Obama’s stated policy goals. But the emotions in my household were about issues larger than policy; they were stimulated by thinking about the hope that was never realized by some of our loved ones, specifically people like my great-grandfather, John Cravens, who was the unchallenged patriarch of our family. This was a man who faced numerous obstacles just to vote--everything from poll taxes to outright intimidation--but who always voted. He passed on to his family the importance of voting and the need to be engaged with the democratic process. I don’t think I would have ever had the will to run for the city council without the inspiration of his courageous example.
I honestly don't believe that the election of Barack Obama, in itself,
makes America a better country. However, it does present a
tangible example of the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream: the hope that all Americans could have an opportunity to be all that God created them to be, that our appraisal by society would not be dependent on our gender, culture, or color, but rather on our character and our determination to succeed.
The racial challenges of our day are not limited to our country; the globe is populated with similar ones, from the fight for equality in South Africa to the more recent struggles of minorities in France. What makes America great is that as history has shown, we lead and the world follows. For all its many flaws, this nation has shown itself, in the final analysis, to be ruled by compassion and the unquenchable thirst for justice.
During this time of New Year’s resolutions and personal evaluations, I think it would be wise, more than ever, to reflect on Dr. King’s dream and identify ways we can continue to approach making it a reality. Barack Obama’s election, as historic as it is, doesn’t signify that everything is fine and we have reached utopia--far from it. It is worth recognizing, however, that we are certainly no longer living in the state that caused Dr. King and other great Americans to stand up against institutionalized oppression and hatred. The reality is that we are somewhere in between the two, and our contribution to our society's improvement--or lack thereof--will determine which direction we will go.