Keep Marching, Keep Dreaming
Lessons from Kings and Superheroes on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington
Fifty seven years ago, a quarter of a million people arrived in Washington D. C. to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Although all races were welcome, over 70% of attendees were African-American, and the event’s central focus was to advocate for economic and social advancement for African Americans from all walks of life. There, sanitation workers and housewives stood alongside students and teachers and bore witness to a movement led by the foremost leaders in education, entertainment, and civil rights.
There were many historic moments that day, but in the years since, the event is most famous for being the place where Dr. Martin Luther King proclaimed his dream for America. That dream was simple, but revolutionary: a nation where Black Americans and White Americans lived in harmony and equality. The dream was neither new nor foreign. It had been dreamed by generations of African Americans suffering under the oppression of slavery and Jim Crow, and, as Dr. King proclaimed, it is deeply rooted in the American dream. And yet for many of the protesters gathered around the Lincoln Memorial that day, the dream seemed unattainable. Less than a year after declaring his dream, Dr. King died, but his dream lived on.
Today, African Americans still live in a nation beset by economic and social inequality. Currently, African Americans are three times as likely to live in poverty and twice as likely to be unemployed, and the average African American family has a net wealth fourteen times less than the average White family. In short, despite legislative progress, economic disparities in the United States have not only persisted, they have increased. In the years since the March on Washington, African Americans have continued to protest these inequities by marching, organizing, voting and even dreaming.
It may come as a surprise to some, but in the face of mounting oppression and despair a dream is a protest. That is why the movie Black Panther was so inspirational to many African Americans when it was released in 2016. At a time when a presidential candidate was espousing some of the most divisive racial rhetoric in generations, and the murders of young African American men by those who were sworn to protect and serve them were broadcast live due to advances in technology, King T’Challa arrived to reignite our dream of social empowerment and remind us of our collective value as a community. In fact, I believe that witnessing the Black excellence demonstrated in the Kingdom of Wakanda was analogous to witnessing Dr. King at the March on Washington, in that it allowed African Americans to see beyond their current oppressive conditions into a future in which they were the Kings and Queens of their own resources and destiny.
The years since the movie’s release have seen an increase in racial strife, social injustice and divisive rhetoric. Now we face another election year, which has been clouded by a global pandemic, an economic recession, more murders of African Americans, and the death of some of the most significant icons in the African American community, including Kobe Bryant and John Lewis. That is why the sudden death of Chadwick Boseman tonight hits the African American community so hard. However, even in the midst of this great and inexplicable loss, we must realize that although he brought the dream of Wakanda to the African American community, that dream will live on long after his death. Moreover, in order to see the realization of that dream, the African American community, must keep protesting inequalities, keep marching toward justice, and most of all, keep dreaming.