So many in my parents’ generation – and ours – never thought we’d see an African-American elected president of this country. Now, not only have we been blessed to see that day, but on Jan. 21, we will witness the president accept a second term on the same day that our nation pauses to acknowledge the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What a tremendous honor it is to witness this moment in history. On the one hand, we are celebrating the legacy of someone who gave his blood, sweat, tears and life to make a better future for generations unborn. And on the other, we have someone who personifies the very substance of Dr. King’s dream taking the Oath of Office for a second time.
This is much more than a footnote in the history books. In fact, as a man of faith, I am compelled to believe that this is not a mere coincidence; rather this is a seminal moment for us all.
This is an opportunity for this generation to be inspired by the aspirations of those who came before us.
There is still much to do, and President Obama remains uniquely positioned to help our nation achieve the tenets of humanity and equality of which Dr. King could only dream.
I hope that the Congress will work with President Obama to change our national discourse during his second term.
We must refocus our conversation and our efforts on what really matters – creating jobs; increasing and expanding access to effective, efficient and affordable healthcare; and strengthening our education system so more of our children can succeed.
This isn’t about agendas. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. This is about doing what’s right because no people – no matter what their race or station – can survive and thrive in the absence of healthy systems of economic development, healthcare and education.
I also hope that the president will resist changes to Social Security benefits and Medicare in his second term. Many Social Security beneficiaries – particularly those from black and poor communities – have only Social Security benefits on which to live. They have no pension, no savings, no 401(K), and now, thanks to the recession, some of them don’t even have a house or a job.
When we add to that a lack of health care, increases in the cost of living and Medicare premiums, as well as decreases in access to quality care, what we have is a group of people marching toward their senior years who will lead shorter, sicker lives.
Instead of protecting the future of our senior citizens, there are some looking to make the country solvent on their backs. We must do better.
Finally, I hope that all Americans who cherish democracy will be vigilant. Our 21st century civil rights movement to expand and preserve our voting rights has just begun.
Last November, a months-long campaign to suppress the votes of the elderly, the poor, students, Hispanics, and African-Americans came to a head when record numbers turned out to vote.
Many voters of all ethnicities withstood remarkable odds just to cast their ballots for President Obama. Long lines, hours-long waits, and state-imposed restrictive voter ID laws all threatened to rob many of their votes.
A strategic, nationwide campaign to remove early voting opportunities was launched, attacking the bedrock of the African-American voting tradition. Early voting hours in many states, like Ohio and Florida, were all but eliminated. Where they weren’t successful, it appeared that organizations like True The Vote stepped in with aggressive poll monitoring techniques to support the Republican agenda.
Now is not the time to become complacent in our efforts to fight voter suppression. We can do better as a nation in upholding this fundamental Constitutional right – and with the president’s leadership, we can preserve this key right for generations yet unborn.
In April 1960, Dr. King gave the Founders Day address at Spelman College. He closed his remarks, “Move From This Mountain,” by reading Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” and offering this appeal: “If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.”
Dr. King and our forefathers and mothers passed the baton to President Obama and all of us. It is up to us to continue to stand up for what’s right. We must not drop the baton. We must continue moving forward.