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Mobilizing Hope: An Excerpt
Excerpted from: Mobilizing Hope by Adam Taylor
A New Dream for a New Generation
In January 2010 I attended a Dr. Martin Luther King memorial service at Alfred St. Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. The youth of the church put on a theatrical overview of the civil rights movement to commemorate Dr. King's life and celebrate his legacy. . . . As I watched middle and high school students deliver speeches and act out scenes from the movement, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of hope. I felt as though the torch had been passed to a new generation of young people who understood the shoulders upon which they stand and the unfinished business that lies before them. Yet I wondered whether they fully grasped the degree to which the world had changed since the height of the civil rights struggle. There's a risk in overly memorializing and romanticizing the civil rights struggle in ways that get us stuck in old paradigms. Sadly, America's recent trajectory has led to an increasingly unequal, resegregated America while missing a window of opportunity to offer bold moral leadership in an increasingly integrated and interdependent world.
Hours after the 2008 election results were announced and Barack Obama was declared the winner, an exodus of people poured out onto the 14th Street corridor in Washington, D.C., in a revelry of spontaneous and exuberant celebration. I stood in the midst of this thronging crowd sharing hugs, high fives and fist bumps with random strangers from seemingly every racial and ethnic background. In that instant the crowd felt like a family reunion of long lost brothers and sisters. We stood on top of the hallowed ashes of a Columbia Heights and U Street neighborhood that had burned to the ground forty years earlier after news of Dr. King's assassination in Memphis reached the rest of the country. On the same ground destroyed by rage arose newfound unity and hope. Regardless of how you voted, that night was a poignant moment in America's history.
We shouldn't lose sight of the symbolism that just forty years earlier in 1968, America experienced a tragic turning point in its history. Dr. King's assassination in Memphis and Robert Kennedy's assassination in Los Angeles on the eve of a major primary victory derailed the civil rights movement's pursuit of the beloved community. A fervent dedication to nonviolent social protest and a vision of an integrated movement was replaced by the anger of black power and separatism. The Vietnam War diverted America's attention away from the struggle for economic justice, siphoning massive financial resources and taking the political wind out of the sails of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs. American politics became increasingly divided along the lines of a culture war that also fractured the church, creating a greater divide between mainline and evangelical churches. Abortion, school prayer and family values became the rallying cry of a conservative religious movement, leading to the creation of organizations like the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition and causing a realignment in American politics around issues of values and personal morality. Meanwhile the free market became a new religion, with Reagan's emphasis on trickle-down economics and unbridled support for small government and deregulation.
Forty years later we face a new set of realities as our world has changed in critical ways. First is the alarming trend that the economy is characterized by increasing inequality and rising levels of poverty. The spoils of economic growth have been unequally shared, with minimal gains and rising strain on the bottom and middle. Market values have seeped into every aspect of our lives. The Great Recession that began in 2008 provides a potential kairos moment to reimagine and restructure our economy according to a new ethic aligned with the biblical notion of jubilee.