Dear Dr. King,
Happy belated 91st birthday, sir.
I often wonder what advice you might share with us if you were still down here.
A lot has changed in the last 52 years. Just about everyone carries a tiny, lightning-fast computer in their pocket; China has become nearly as wealthy and powerful as the United States; and the same country that instituted Jim Crow elected a black President—who served two terms!
Too much, however, has stayed the same. Your powerful vision of democracy "deeply rooted in the American dream that all people are created equal," has yet to be realized. An American democracy that is inclusive, substantive, and transformative is still, in the words of your dear friend Langston, a dream deferred.
That landmark Voting Rights Act you spearheaded? Gutted. In 2013, the Supreme Court—under the false premise that the era of discrimination was long gone—reversed decades of progress by stripping the VRA of its protective power to stop discriminatory changes to electoral systems.
No longer bound by federal oversight, several jurisdictions with substantial records of discrimination rapidly began enacting laws that undermined minority voters’ ability to vote. Since 2014, millions of minority voters have been purged from voter rolls in an era of elections won by only a few thousand votes each.
And our political systems don't just suppress the vote, they actively pit citizens against each other for political gain. Our political culture has devolved into one of dehumanization and retribution. Many political actors, even our President, profit on the decay of our social fabric. And as tensions have reached a boiling point, it sometimes feels like we are inches away from civil war.
So, where do we go from here? Chaos or Community? It’s easy to give in to hatred and bitterness, and give up on ideals. But like you, I believe in reconciliation. I believe in redemption. I believe in our ability to grow into better versions of ourselves.
I don’t think it’s too late to build the Beloved Community you envisioned. I too believe that one day, all people will share in the wealth of the Earth. That one day, love and trust will triumph over hatred and fear. That one day, peace and justice will prevail over war and conflict.
I still have faith in America, in large part because of the 200+ exceptional young leaders who joined the Fellowship program my team at Civics Unplugged just launched. These young leaders—representing every region of the country—are not afraid to push the boundaries, to challenge the machinery of the status quo, and to imagine all that is possible if they learn with an open mind, collaborate across lines of difference, and commit to taking responsibility for America’s future.
As part of the program, these Fellows will spend months building community and learning the personal development, systems thinking, and participatory skills they need to understand and address challenges in their communities and their democracy. And by July, these young leaders will have convened in our nation’s capital and democratically drafted a declaration boldly envisioning a brighter future for American democracy, signed with 10-year pledges to help realize this vision.
The Fellowship just started, but I have already witnessed these young leaders' wisdom and potential.They have studied the mistakes of their elders. They have seen how acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. They have seen how hatred and violence lead to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. And they recognize that your strategic, non-violent, and compassionate approach to changing the world is the path to redemption, reconciliation, and the creation of the Beloved Community.
I am only one person, but I want you to know that I will do everything I can to ignite the imaginations of these young leaders and help them turn their dreams of a thriving democracy into reality. As you yourself once said, “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.” I couldn't agree more.
Thank you for everything you've done for me, for America, and for all of humanity.
Rest in power.