I admit, I thought this post would be easier to write. “A freebie,” I thought to myself after the staff reminded me behind the scenes that Monday, January 21st fell on both Obama’s (ceremonial) Second Inauguration – he was officially sworn in on Sunday – and Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Just so we’re all on the same page here, MLK Day is the celebration of MLK’s birthday, not his death, as apparently some incorrectly believe on-line. Anyway, as I prepared to write on what I assumed would be simple and straightforward topics, I found myself instead staring idly at a blinking cursor.
In 2013, what does MLK Day and the second election of our nation’s first black president mean to me?
I was at an uncomfortable loss for words. I was even slightly embarrassed that I wasn’t emotionally vested in the convergence of events. Conceptually, I was appreciative of the historical significance. MLK was assassinated in 1968, 45 years ago this year. Although there is still progress to be made, there is no doubt that our country has made great strides in the four-and-a-half decades since MLK’s death. Many point to Obama’s second election, among others, as indisputable evidence of the positive changes our country has made, especially when it comes to race relations then and now. Others believe Obama’s election, his first and second, is representative of MLK’s famous, “I have a dream” speech fulfilled – I don’t personally want to debate the validity of that belief today but it has been said. With this in mind, why did I still feel so indifferent?
For a moment, I figured I’d grown complacent. Perhaps I was too caught up in the day-to-day to appreciate the historical significance. Maybe I’d become ungrateful or unable to recognize the implication of these events unfolding during my lifetime. While this isn’t 2008, Obama’s re-election is allowing us to bear witness to history in the making, yet again, so basically, what was my problem?
I realized that good, bad, or indifferent, I had begun to expect (or accept) great things would be accomplished in my lifetime. Over the years, I’d seen the world change so much that even great events failed to register their appropriate level of respect. Instead of looking at what was taking place on another random Monday, I needed to view these changes through a historical prism. The historical significance of these events, not limited to Obama’s reelection, are undeniable. I needed to do a better job of appreciating the importance of the events unfolding around me; events that sometimes seemed like commonplace within my lifetime, but which hadn’t taken place with any degree of frequency in the lifetime of the United States of America.
I failed to appreciate that Barack Obama, our first Black president, was hosting his second inauguration in the same country where Martin Luther King was assassinated for striving for peace and equal representation of men and women judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Of course, I had learned this lesson many years ago, but in my complacency, I had allowed myself to forget. For me, that’s what MLK Day and Obama’s second inauguration means in 2013. An opportunity to remember all this great country has accomplished, while not forgetting all it has gone through to do so. It was a humbling reminder that we’ve come a long way and still have the potential to go so much further, and I’m fortunate to live in period where I am privy to both.
What does MLK Day mean for you? What does Barack Obama’s second inauguration mean? Is it as significant as the first? How, if at all, do you plan on celebrating? If you are watching or attending, what was the most memorable event for you from 2009 or 2013?