The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

September 1, 2013

Looking deeper in Obama's MLK speech

Why it matters: While some will focus on perceived divisiveness in the speech, we see areas where we can agree and be inspired if given the chance.

(Continued)

“And then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us claiming to push for change lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots. Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways, as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support — as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.

“All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided. But the good news is, just as was true in 1963, we now have a choice. We can continue down our current path, in which the gears of this great democracy grind to a halt and our children accept a life of lower expectations; where politics is a zero-sum game where a few do very well while struggling families of every race fight over a shrinking economic pie — that’s one path. Or we can have the courage to change.”

We would encourage people to focus on another passage from Dr. King, spoken six months before he was assassinated.

“If a man is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.

He should sweep streets so well, that all the hosts of heaven will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

More succinctly, look first to yourself.

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