Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.
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Martin Luther King, III
One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, my father gave arguably the most celebrated of his speeches, “I Have a Dream.” On that day, a gathering of strangers a quarter of a million strong came to hear what it meant to be Black in America. Using his brush of eloquence, he painted the picture of where the typical Black in America lived: On a lonely “island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
Like 1963’s March on Washington, CNN’s documentary, Black in America, is a gathering of sorts. Exponentially greater in numbers and certainly less familiar with each other, its viewers gathered to see vignettes that dramatize the continuing shameful condition that my father spoke of nearly 40 days short of 40 years ago. The condition he spoke of then demonstrated that American Blacks were not free.
One hundred and forty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the Black in America documentary demonstrates vividly that the lives of too many African-Americans are still crippled by the shackles of economic segregation, the chains of educational discrimination, the manacles of medial apartheid, and the fetters of a criminal justice system that feeds on African-Americans, mostly male. In short, 140 years after that historic promissory note as my father referred to it, too many who are Black in America still inhabit that lonely island of poverty.
In part one, there is a certain unremarkable tenor of the documentary showing that to be Black in America is to be fully American. What I mean is that the stories told could be those of any racial or ethnic group, with the many challenges and opportunities we Americans encounter as we eke out a life in the template of the American Dream. What is remarkable, of course, are the disproportionate gatherings of African-Americans on the high end of the challenges and the low end of the opportunities, which makes their chances as a group less likely to realize that dream.
Yes, we have made great strides; a third of Blacks in America have an average income of $50,000, more Blacks in America today are educated than ever before with undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees. Black men and women are among those who lead in the fields of education, health, business, finance and the sciences. Unfortunately, there is another third of Blacks in America who lead the nation as a group in such areas as school drop outs, the imprisoned, the unemployed, and those infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
Long on symptoms and short on solutions, the documentary gives ample examples of the ravages of a disease acquired at the birth of our nation. But, perhaps, that is the way it should be. The task for all Americans, no matter what race or color, is to join hands and rise up to live out the true meaning of our creed. That call is both a challenge and an opportunity for all Americans. If we are to truly become one nation with liberty and justice for all, then living out the true meaning of our creed means doing our part to once and for all eliminate the vestiges of racism and the islands of poverty that isolate too many Americans, no matter their color or ethnic background.
I am looking forward to the second part of Black in America and I hope to write further on how Americans from all walks of life can join hands together and do their part to Realize the Dream.
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