Thursday, April 03, 2008

I've Been to the Mountaintop

On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave what would be his final speech. He was invited to Memphis to talk in support of the striking sanitation workers. The speech was at once uplifting and prophetic. He spoke of all that had been achieved in the fight for equality, but he also spoke of the hard work that was still ahead.

Although I was born two and a half years after Dr. King's assasination, his words, his hopes and dreams, his life work resonates deep within me. I long for a leader, a public figure, that can rally the nation, the world community, to rise and take action, to recognize the injustices that continue to be pervasive in what we take to be an enlightened culture.

I think it is no small coincidence that my generation, Generation X, has been characterized as disaffected, politically apathetic, cynical and disenchanted. When you look at the early leaders of our parents' (Baby Boomer) generation there was a great deal of hope, change, and turmoil. But turmoil in a good way. It seems, to me at least, that with the assassinations of Dr. King, President Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy there was a collective resignation and shift away from liberal movements toward a focus on money, individual success, and self-promotion. It is if that generation said, "Okay, we've made some changes, now it's time to focus on me. Those people don't need our help anymore." Certainly there are individuals who still fought, and continue to fight, for equality, but by and large I feel like people gave up, or, more precisely, gave in.

Where did that leave Generation X? Certainly we have the benefits of the work of the previous generation; but their ultimate lesson was not one of sustainable revolution. Where does that leave us now? We are heading into middle age and nearing the point where we will lead the country. What will our legacy be? Who will be our mentors as we take over the reigns of leadership? Those that should have been our mentors seem to care only for themselves and have entered a culture of corruption.

This is a bleak outlook, I know. Yet, I am hopeful. I look around at my peers and see individuals starting to speak up, make changes, and look for ways to make a difference. Maybe we are just slow starters, but I think in the long run we will show that we have learned some important lessons and work to unite the global community.

For more information about Dr. King's final speech see the NPR website as well as the text of his speech (in PDF).

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