(Host) For commentator Traci Griffith, Martin Luther King Day is all about remembering to dream.
(Griffith) The celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is special to me, not only because I am African-American, but especially because I am an American. I am a first generation American.
My parents came to this country fifty years ago from Barbados. Barbados, a very small Caribbean nation, was at the time a British colony with a population that was 95 percent black. When I hear the nostalgic stories about life in “the old country,” I often wonder why my grandparents would choose to move to a country that didn’t want them and often treated them with disrespect and disdain.
The families immigrated at a time when the effects of Brown vs. Board of Education were just being felt and the Voting Rights Act was still a decade away. Rosa Parks had yet to stage her protest on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and Martin Luther King Junior was just another southern preacher. Our country was a very, very different place.
While traveling through Pennsylvania in the late 1950s my grandparents stopped for hamburgers. They were allowed to purchase the hamburgers, but were told they had to eat them outside, since the establishment didn’t allow Negroes in the dining room. Despite fond feelings for his homeland, and in spite of the treatment he received here in the U.S., my grandfather maintained that The United States of America was the greatest country in the world. Like Dr. King, he was a minister, and he had faith in things that remained unseen. Much like Martin Luther King Junior, my grandfather believed in the promise of our nation.
He and Dr. King believed that all men are created equal. They believed that all men could and should receive equal opportunities and that when paired with equal access to jobs and education those opportunities could lead to success. That is why my grandfather immigrated with his wife and six children to America.
For the most part, America has become that nation that my grandfather and Dr. King dreamed about. Things are better now than they ever have been. America enjoys more democratic freedoms and a higher standard of living than any other country in the world. But we can’t ignore the discrimination that still exists in our country.
Discrimination based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and most recently nationality still exists. The national fight over same-sex marriage is yet to be fought. And Arab Americans continue to face profiling in the wake of September 11th.
Every year King’s words serve to remind us that we still have work to do. Until we can say with all honesty that our nation empowers all people to pursue their dreams without the barrier of discrimination, we have not lived up to our founding principles. Like Dr. King and my grandfather, I still believe and I still dream.
I’m Traci Griffith from Williston.
Traci Griffith is a professor of journalism at Saint Michael’s College.