September 15, 2013

Letter: New opportunities for leadership

— Over the past month we’ve been offered the opportunity to marvel again over the progress arising out of Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Dream Speech.”

We acknowledge that certain centuries-old racial ills have faded, still many face deliberate, intense, divisive legislative efforts to repress minority voting; newly invented schemes for returning education to the segregated, non-equal schools of 50 years ago; of unemployment rates for non-whites that are more than double those with lighter skins; of pay scales for minorities and women able to find work that fall well behind compensation of white males performing the same labors.

We learn daily of federal and state lawmakers who vote to deny food assistance to those already below the poverty line and who can also find justification to deny Medicaid to thousands. Have we become a nation willing to believe that disadvantaged people either don’t need food and medicine to survive, or do we comfort our consciences by rationalizing that there are some who don’t deserve as much as we? Jesus has yet to endorse such a stance.

Many of these questions tumbled through my mind as I watched the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Advancing The Dream” weekend telecast. One could only applaud determination and effort as “Magic” Johnson, Tyler Perry, Condoleezza Rice and others recalled their struggles to succeed.

But the weekend was topped as I viewed “Lee Daniel’s The Butler.” If I have ever seen a more compelling film, it has long since been forgotten. It was a chilling experience to watch a black child of 1926 work his way from the cotton fields of middle Georgia to serving eight presidents in the White House, and was a compelling reminder of times past.

The glass ceiling faced by racial minorities and women has yet to be broken but by looking closely, we find increasing cracks. The ceiling continues to favor some at the expense of others. As individuals, cities, counties, states and as a country, we carry a responsibility to behave in ways that strengthen rather than divide. I can only hope that we are nearing a time when our ears, brains and consciences all come together at one time and a united people offer this nation new opportunities for leadership.

Joan V. McGovern