1968 was a year of turmoil, the assassinations of both the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy. Many Americans felt like it was the end of something, as if we were on a downward spiral. We certainly were left questioning our values and what the future would hold. In some ways, 50 years later, we find ourselves questioning our nation’s future, a nation divided politically, economically, culturally and regionally. Our political leaders promoting divisions to firm up their political base, while business leaders promote questionable tax changes and labor rules, making for enormous economic divides between management and workers, rich and poor.
There is a war on unions, a war on the poor, a war on access to healthcare and women’s rights. Fear and anger permeate our culture as we watch and wonder how the nation will find its footing.
In these moments we can take heart in the words of the two great men who were taken from us way too soon. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is filled with hope, even in the darkest hours of our nation’s history and Robert Kennedy’s “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” continues to inspire a nation of dreamers and creators.
As we welcome Martin Luther King, Jr Day, think of it as a kickoff to a new year of working for a better community, state and nation. Think of it as the prelude to the 2nd Annual Women’s March, an event last year that galvanized people across the nation and created a new generation of political activism and engagement. On Wednesday, I will be joining people from across the state in Albany to hear from farmworkers about working conditions on NY farms and in our state’s agricultural businesses. Both Dr. King and Senator Kennedy would have stood firm with the farmworkers in their quest for dignity.
When Dr. King was assassinated, I organized my elementary school to raise funds for a community center serving children our age who were less fortunate. I’ve never forgotten that experience, being a young person, trying to find my way to walk in his oversized shoes, and leave the world a little better than I found it.
I can remember, in a White Plains parking lot, where US Senate candidate Robert Kennedy, giving a speech, reached over and shook my hand. I still remember telling my mother I would never wash my hand again, as it was touched by the fallen president’s brother.
Those memories remind me how strong our nation is because of our diversity. We are strong because the people who come to the United States are people who want a better life and want opportunities for themselves and their children. Those who reach our shores seek religious, political and artistic freedom and no one administration, one economic downturn or one difficult period can hold back the dream living in the hearts of the American people. We will continue the struggles of both these giants and we shall overcome.
See all of Robert Kesten’s past essays on LinkedIn Pulse: https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertkesten/detail/recent-activity/posts/