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The End of King’s Dream

Posted by on in UNward!
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“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”    Amy Fast  @fastcranny 

As I heard that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States, I sat quietly with my wife and daughter and savored the meaning of the moment. 

I was filled with the spirit of the possibilities the future held. I had no idea what kind of leader our new president would be. What I knew was that the faces of the masses gathered on election night 2008 shouted hope in a way I had never seen.

I saw how much the moment meant to people who could not hold back their tears -- and I shared that. 

I saw how eager people were for leadership they could believe in -- and I shared that. 

I saw huddled together, the people of America; black, white, Latino, Asian, old and young who just want to live as one -- and I shared that. 

I saw the idealism of youth -- and I shared that. 

I saw people all around the world enveloped in a sense of transformation -- and I shared that. 

I saw  joy on the faces of so many who were experiencing a long-deferred dream fulfilled -- and I shared that. 

I saw humility and graciousness -- and I shared that. 

That night felt like a genuine promise of a  new day in America had been fulfilled. 

That night I felt free to dream a little higher, hope a little longer, believe a little deeper. 

That night I felt just a little more assured that my daughter would have a better life than mine.

Election night 2008  was unlike any other evening any of us had ever experienced.  It was the night the world changed, and I was thrilled to see such significant evidence that King’s dream was being realized.

Fast forward to 2016

These are the best of times and the worst of times for race relations in America.  The world Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned is more real than most thought possible in our lifetime. Legal segregation is gone. Civil rights is a culturally accepted norm. People of color have risen to positions of significance in virtually every sector of American society. Clearly, many of the most insidious barriers to equality have come tumbling down. Yes, beyond new  laws, monuments, and a national holiday, there is ample evidence that King's dream has come to fruition on many levels. 

The gains have led many to declare that we are now officially in a post-racial America. One in which race no longer matters. 

Not so fast, not so fast

Other Americans say, are you kidding me?  Can you spell F-E-R-G-U-S-O-N?  Didn’t you see the video of the black school girl tossed across the room like her dignity was irrelevant?  Have you not been following the push back on the Black Lives Matter movement, from the rock you’re living under? Do the rates of black incarceration and unemployment look like a post-racial America to you?

It’s complicated

Our nation’s racial history has always been a complex mosaic of conflicting worldviews and interests.  What’s different today is how much more difficult it is to reconcile these competing visions in the face of such stark contradictions.   

So what is the state of King's dream? Depends on who you ask. There’s the Stepford Wives' view in which our remaining racial issues are just ignored. "America is a great nation and we're all getting along just fine." This view is deeply unsettling to thoughtful people, committed to racial reconciliation and social justice.

Then there’s the Bizarro World view, where claims about race, race relations and equality are 180 degrees out of step with what many people would call reality.

The Bizarro World view can be frustrating and confounding. Consider the discussion I had last year with a very prominent white educator. He wrote to scold me for not having more people of color involved in our programs. I explained in meticulous detail the efforts we had made to be more inclusive, but he was unimpressed. In his 20th century-based view of racial equality, there is only one explanation for a lack of diversity -- discrimination.  I was initially too caught up in the effort to create understanding between us to notice the irony in play.  A privileged young white male was chiding a black, former civil rights activist about diversity.  Is that post-racial enough for you?

Perhaps the most bizarre development  involves the ways in which a 20th-century view of how equality is achieved may be undermining the ability to reach the endgame of King's dream.

In King’s day, opportunities were controlled and doled out by, “the man.”  Achieving equal opportunity meant, railing against the mostly white male, gatekeepers to open doors, provide opportunities and dismantle systems of privilege. Today there is a palpable “industrial age” feel to this worldview.

As we pause to reflect on King's dream, the world as we know it is being upended.  The status quo in virtually every nation and every sector of the American economy is being disrupted and democratized. The structures that once held a firm grip on “opportunities” are being overshadowed by increasing waves of technology-driven possibilities.   These new opportunities are astoundingly accessible to all with the eyes to see and the skills to make use of them.  In fact, many of the barriers that King would have marched to tear down are now crumbling under the weight of globalization. Controlling people, possibilities, and opportunities has simply become more difficult in a globally connected world. I’ve seen inspiring examples of this firsthand.

One of my closest colleagues and dearest friends is a fortyish white woman from a small town in the south. I’m told that even as we recognize MLK Day 2016, her hometown has still not fully embraced “the dream.” It is unlikely that she and I could open a business together on Main Street in her community and expect to prosper.  Yet, through technology, we’re currently collaborating to serve educators in her hometown and around the world. King's Dream is being realized, even as her local community is confident that they have succeeded at keeping his dream from altering their way of life. 


The segregation that matters most today is the segregation of consciousness.  On one side are those holding onto a 20th-century view of America.  This includes those resistant to change AND those unconscious about how technology has already profoundly changed the rules of the game.  In this camp, we also find hose who are looking backward, and fighting industrial-age battles with a 20th-century worldview. #behindthecurve.

On the other side are those who are acutely aware of the changing world dynamics and are leaning forward into a near-limitless future.

The End of King’s Dream

The overwhelming majority of Americans are now:

Free to pursue our passions. 
Free to personalize our learning and cultivate our genius.
Free to speak our minds and have our voices heard around the world.
Free to collaborate with anyone, in any country, to solve any problem that matters to us.
Free to crowdsource our solutions, crowdfund our ideas,  and connect with supporters around the world.
Free to create our own opportunities and to live lives of incredible meaning and impact.

Despite the  challenges we have to tackle for America to fully realize its promise, I see that we are rapidly approaching the end of King's Dream.

Free at last, free at last.  Thank God almighty we are free at last (almost…).


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I'm the executive producer of BAM Radio Network, which means I get to eat, sleep and drink education talk radio. Over the last 10 years, I've been a fly on the wall in over 4,500 discussions between some of the most thoughtful, passionate and fascinating educators in the nation. On these pages I share the most important lessons I've learned from them, along with an occasional rogue insight of my own. BACKGROUND: I am a 25-year veteran of the media. Over those two-and-a-half decades, I had the opportunity to author four books; write for The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times; and spent three years as a popular radio talk show host on KIEV in Los Angeles. I worked for seven years as an "on air" political commentator and co-hosted the Emmy Award-winning program Life and Times on PBS television. I eventually moved on to become a business reporter at KTLA in Hollywood. Owing to some great mentors, some good timing and perhaps a shortage of available talent, I managed to pick up five Emmy nominations and one Emmy Award along the way. Oh by the way, I went to Harvard. Well … actually, I was invited to speak there once, but I really learned a lot from the experience. :)

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Monday, 18 January 2016

    First, I really enjoyed your writing style and the way in which you used repetition. You took the reader on a journey in which we didn't know where we were going until we arrived. These are unique times and ones in which I am constantly learning, growing, synthesizing and reevaluating what I know about race. I am a white man who spends his day primarily with African American males. They teach me much and I feel like I am often able to return the favor. I wish I had more answers and solutions for the current tensions that still exist throughout our nation. One thing the kids have taught me though is that hugs, handshakes and high fives will always be colorblind. And for that I am thankful.

  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Tuesday, 19 January 2016

    Thank you, Jon. You're an incredible writer, so I place exceptional value on your feedback. To your main points, I agree that these are unique times, which require us all to be voracious learners and relearners. I would loooooove to hear more about the experiences you have daily relating to African American males. My guess is that with your writing skill and growth mindset, there is much you can help us learn by sharing. Even your comment about hugs, handshakes and high fives is ripe with potential for understanding the nature of relationship building. I hope you'll write about this!!!

  • Rita Wirtz |  @RitaWirtz
    Rita Wirtz | @RitaWirtz Tuesday, 26 January 2016

    I think you wrote a brave, highly accurate reflection of the times we live in and the hopes for all children.

  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Tuesday, 26 January 2016

    Thank for your encouraging comments, Rita. These are exceptional times!

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