Some 40-plus years ago my evenings were filled with nightly, TV, news images of children near my own age. Images of police dogs ripping at exposed flesh. Images of young girls huddled against walls trying to shelter themselves from the stinging needles of high-pressure fire hoses. And images of, ugly, stormy, shouts from enraged mobs as children … children near my own age just tried to go to school. These were the images that tempered my awakening, you see it was 1963 and I was an idealistic Twelve going on 13.
It was 100 years, a century, after the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet you could still find places in America where blacks were expected to give up their seat on buses to any white person. A time when you could find toilets and drinking fountains marked “whites only” and “colored only.” It was also a time of massive, landslides of change. You see, I was brought up believing that America worked and it was these images that first caused me to question what I had been taught. Confusion and distrust were fast becoming my nightly bedfellows. America was becoming a riddle.
Then one day in August of 1963 I caught part of a speech from our nation's capital and even at 13, goose bumps rose on my flesh. It was here that I realized that the greatness in America exists in its people — people with the freedom and courage to fight a good fight. I realized that America is only what we make of it, good or bad, and we can only make America great if we adhere to the ideals embraced by our founders. America is a gift not given but earned, over and over again.
It took a man in a dark suit, a white shirt, a narrow tie and dark skin to resolve my confusion. I realized that freedom and justice while promised to us must be demanded and fought for whenever they are denied. America’s greatness lies in allowing this fight and we as citizens celebrate the ideals of our forefathers by parading these rights in the streets, demanding them at the foot of our most holy shrines and shouting them from every mountain top.
And, on that August day I remember ringing down from the Lincoln Memorial these words from that speech: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream …"
Martin Luther King Jr. taught me what America could be and I still have tears of thanks in my eyes when I reflect on that great American! -- Michael Leibow, Torrance Calif.