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John Hope May 18, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in History.
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While driving through Martin Luther King’s historical district this weekend I passed a park overflowing with children. The children – all of whom were African American – were running jumping screaming sitting laughing playing. I focused on a circle of kids around a parachute each holding onto a section of it. On the teachers command the children begin madly shaking the parachute upanddown. Balls spring up, popping out of their hidden restfulness of the moment prior. The kids laugh and smile.

The scene in the park sends my mind back to a memory that took place at my elementary school, The Children’s School (do names get better than this?). An all-time favorite activity in gym class among my classmates and me was the parachute. Coach Rob would tell us when to begin, just as the African American teacher instructed her kids, and instantly a raucous wave of movement instilled laughter, happiness, and good memories in us all.

The stoplight turned green, and reluctantly I drove off; though I seriously considered parking and watching the kids play for a little longer. I took my last glance at the park, which, nestled in the shadows of Martin Luther King’s former Baptist church, was brimming with happiness, life, and memories-in-the-making.

As I crept away in my silent Prius, I noticed the teacher’s shirt: “Hope is Back” it read. Whether the creator of the shirt intended it or not, the shirt instantly compelled my mind to Obama, and his message of hope. Then, to MLK, and his message of hope. Like Moses, MLK’s eyes had seen the “promised land”, but, he said, he wouldn’t get there with us. Have we reached the “promised land”? Is this it? Obama a “black” man has indeed been elected president.

To answer my own question: No, this is not the “promised land.” I was quickly reminded of this fact when, a few blocks later, I was immersed in the glaring poverty common in the old Fourth Ward of Atlanta (not to mention the extreme poverty in countries that are not the richest and most productive in the world). The residents of the impoverished old Fourth Ward are nearly totally African American, while wealthy, white Atlantans in Druid Hills live nearby. Economic justice became MLK’s focus in his later years, and he would certainly not be satisfied with the huge racial income inequality that is typical in Atlanta and the rest of the United States.

Despite the enormous amount of progress that has been made there is still work to be done, as President Obama often exclaimed during his presidential campaign. But, thanks to MLK, Obama, along with the thousands of other men and women (Dubois, Garrison, Douglas, Tubman, Lewis, Truth etc.) working tirelessly to reach the promised land, we are progressing. Maybe the progress is slower than some of us would like, nevertheless we are progressing substantially. Everyone should do all they can to help us all reach that glorious land. MLK, Obama, and numerous other famous names are granted credit in the historical narrative. This credit is undoubtedly due to these great men and women, but their dreams and their efforts would be impossible without the help of countless others, whose names historians have forgotten, but upon which the hinges of history equally rest.

P.S. When I drove away and noticed the name of the elementary school was John Hope Elementary School, the teacher’s shirt carried new meaning.

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