Reince Priebus: The future of the ‘Dream’

OPINION - If 1963 was a beginning, where does American stand a half century along the journey?...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

When Dr. King spoke to the hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered at the National Mall fifty years ago, he declared that “1963 is not an end, but a beginning.” So as we commemorate the momentous occasion of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we don’t look just to the past; we also look to the future.

If 1963 was a beginning, where does American stand a half century along the journey?

Certainly, America has come a long way. On Wednesday, fifty years to the day after Dr. King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, America’s first black president will address the crowd that gathers. And all Americans recognize the incredible significance.

But there’s still work to be done. Marchers came to Washington in 1963 to claim their right to the American Dream. We can’t rest until that dream is in reach for every American.

On Monday, at an RNC luncheon commemorating the March, we heard from many individuals who had witnessed history and made history, among them Robert J. Brown, who worked alongside Dr. King, advised a president, and became a successful businessman; Bob Woodson, who has dedicated his life to building communities and transforming lives, schools, and neighborhoods through the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; and T.W. Shannon, the first black Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Each had their own story to tell, but in their own ways each echoed a common theme: we’ve made progress, but there’s work to be done.

We can’t focus on “just outreach,” Bob Woodson said. We have to “uplift those at the bottom.” In part, upholding Dr. King’s legacy means ensuring opportunity and the American Dream are within reach for the least fortunate among us—especially in today’s economy.

The work of achieving Dr. King’s dream “transcends politics,” said his niece Monday, and Republicans are committed to doing our part—offering a message of freedom and opportunity and the policies to make jobs plentiful and to help communities thrive.

We have to keep working until every American has a fair shot—until jobs are plentiful and communities are thriving. That means helping black- and minority-owned businesses grow. That means ensuring Historically Black Colleges and Universities weather these difficult economic times.

And it certainly means fixing our schools. Every child in America deserves a quality education. Education is essential to equal opportunity, and opportunity is essential to the American Dream. We have to keep fighting for parents to have a choice of where they send their kids to school.

A child’s education shouldn’t be determined by a zip code. No child should be stuck in a failing school. It’s not fair. Too much time has been wasted worrying about the adults in the system; we must spend more time worrying about the kids. Education is nothing less than a civil rights issue.

From our party’s beginning in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854 at a meeting of abolitionists, Republicans have been leaders on issues of civil rights and equal opportunity. But past accomplishments don’t address the issues of today. Building a better future is up to us. We have to do our part.

So this anniversary isn’t just a call to remembrance. It’s a call to action. Fifty years ago, Dr. King exhorted us to remember the basic promise of America’s founding: that God created us all equal, and all of us deserve an equal shot at making it in this great country. We must continue to heed his call.

The author is chairman of the Republican National Committee.