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County Hall Corner: Woke or Dream?

Sadly, Martin Luther King Day came and went with as much attention as National Pet Day (April 11th, for those who are wondering). Part of the reason for the lack of attention is undoubtedly because Dr. King’s principles are now considered quaint at best and dangerous at worst. His dream was for equality among races, but this has been discarded today for goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Personally, I would love for DEI to change to DIE and do just that because it is false, it is unAmerican, and it has done much more harm than good. For example, there was quite a ruckus recently over a newsletter sent out by the Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Sherita H. Golden for Johns Hopkins Hospital highlights the “diversity word of the month,” which was “privilege.” She listed those who were privileged as white, able-bodied, middle-aged, heterosexual, cisgender, males, Christians, English-speaking, and middle or owning class.

I hit all of those categories except for middle-aged (I am old!) but would push back hard on having any sense of privilege in my life. I grew up in a low-income home with parents who only had an 8th-grade education and who worked in factories at minimum wages their entire lives. When I got accepted to college, my father told me, “Congratulations, son, you are paying for it.” And I did, by taking five years for my degree as I had to take off two semesters to earn money for school. I worked so hard, I even had a job where I did a double shift every day for an entire month.

After college, I married, and nine months later, our first child arrived. Jobs were so scarce I decided to enlist in the US Air Force. After the USAF, I became an ordained minister but always had to be bi-vocational because my churches were small. My wife was a nurse, and we both worked hard our entire lives, and for the first forty years of marriage, we never had over $1,000 of savings in the bank.

So, I did not see any privilege in that time, and I certainly did not have a problem with relating to minorities. My best friend, who was my best man at my wedding, was black. My first supervisor in the Air Force was black, and he and I worked so well together that he wrote my commendation for a Meritorious Service Medal.

Yet, as Dr. Golden in her Monthly Diversity Digest for January 2024 tells me, “Privilege is an unearned benefit given to people who are in a specific social group. Privilege is characteristically invisible to people who have it.”

I can agree with the doctor on this one; it is invisible because I have certainly never seen it. But Dr. King did in his time and combatted it through nonviolent demonstrations and appealing to the heart of our heritage.

When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered that last speech of the day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to over 250,000 civil rights supporters on August 28, 1963, he captured the essence of the Declaration of Independence and our US Constitution better than anyone in the twentieth century. It was not a coincidence that his words echoed another great American, Abraham Lincoln, whose statue was behind Dr. King and was exactly one hundred years after his great Gettysburg Address, sharing the same kind of dream.

At the Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting on January 10th, Commissioner Mark Mussina highlighted that MLK Day was on Monday, January 15th, and brought up the fact that the “dream” section at the end was not part of the original speech. He was right. Even though it was the end of the day and extremely hot, when Dr. King was done with his prepared twelve-minute speech (which is brilliant, by the way, and is often overlooked but should not be), he had a captive audience. They were hanging on every word. He closed his speech with the words, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

With that, the rally was officially over, but no one wanted to leave. There was a group sitting behind Dr. King, one of whom was the well-known singer, Mahalia Jackson. She had accompanied Dr. King throughout the South in their barnstorming for civil rights, and she knew that he had often closed his talks by describing his “dream” for equality. When Dr. King had finished, she leaned forward and said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”

And so he did, and those next six minutes were truly historic. Unfortunately, with each year passing, it seems to be becoming more and more prehistoric.