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In mainstream American minds, Dr. King’s legacy has been truncated to a sound byte ripped of its context: judging not by the color of one’s skin, but by the content of one’s character*—familiar refrain employed to challenge restorative measures among other things. The “fierce urgency of Now” has been conveniently forgotten, the warning against gradualism has been turned upon its head. Jim Crow was the most familiar and identifiable form of American injustice—but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface  lurked the bulk of the malignant growth of nearly 400 yearsfestering police brutalityhousing discriminationvoter disenfranchisement.  These, too, were in King’s message, yet are seldom evoked when people recall “I Have a Dream”. To the contrary, today they are justified by such rhetoric as “the war on drugs”, “personal preference”, and “election integrity”.

But injustice is not unique to America. Although the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, including China and Russia, and we also try children as young as 13 as adults and sentence them to life in prison without parole, global incarceration rates don’t account for those tortured and killed extrajudicially or simply “disappeared“. Basic shelter and housing needs continue to plague both refugee and citizen around the world. And though American military prowess steadily exports democracy, political protests continue to demonstrate that the much of the world still yearns for governments that represent the needs and voices of the people.

So as the U.S. commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement of justice he inspired, we cannot indulge in “cooling off” because separate but equal is no longer legal. We cannot pat ourselves on the back because we elected a Black man as President. We are not at the end of fighting for justice here and abroad, but at the beginning.

As Dr. King once said:

[W]e refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.

[…]There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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