On April 3, 1968, one day before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” In that speech, Dr. King said if he were asked by the Almighty at what time in history he would like to live, he would respond that he would like to live a few years in the second half of the 20th century.
Dr. King acknowledged that his answer might sound strange, because there were many problems and injustices in the world and the nation at that time. He gave several reasons for his answer. He said the issues were in the public view, and the nation was at a point where it was forced to deal with them.
The country has made substantial progress in the years since Dr. King gave that speech. But we feel there are still major concerns. Among them are these: The Supreme Court has gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; it has precluded certain efforts to desegregate K-12 schools; it has limited considerations of race in making college acceptance decisions, even though the intent is to diversify the student body and to correct past injustices (and it has before it a case seeking to limit them more); it has adopted a more stringent test for whether there is a “disparate impact” in housing discrimination cases.
On other fronts, there have been well-publicized incidents of police shootings of African American men; high percentages of African American men are disproportionately imprisoned for long terms for drug-related crimes; the achievement gap between white and minority students is about the same today as it was 60 years ago; unemployment is higher for African Americans than for white people; and there is an inequality in income, which leads to an inequality in opportunity for youth.
A lot remains to be done.
On the positive side, there has been substantial progress in the last 60 years, and the issues that raise concerns are in the public light. On the national level many people are trying to address them. On the negative side, not enough is being done, and many lawmakers are standing in the way.
In his speech Dr. King gave a message of hope for the future. In his State of Union speech on Jan. 12, President Barak Obama did as well. He asked at one point, “Will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?”
Which way the nation turns may depend a lot on the outcome of the elections in November.
Closer to home, we think a lot of good people in Evanston are working hard to address inequities and attempting to ensure that all of our youth have opportunities to succeed and are prepared to do so. Unfortunately the results so far have not matched the efforts. Some of the new initiatives are in their infant stages.
While there is always room for improvement, we think our School Districts and the City have been trying hard to improve outcomes for all our youth. Many community organizations and individuals in town are also doing so.
In addition, the School Districts, the City, and 38 other organizations are working together in the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative – a collective impact model – to ensure that our youth are prepared to succeed. This is hard, challenging, complex work.
We encourage those involved to continue in their efforts. We encourage others to offer their ideas and, importantly, to join in and help.