I live in two Americas. No, I’m not speaking about the haves and the have-nots, Republicans and Democrats or even the native-born versus the immigrant.
What I experienced this past week has made it clearer that we are divided in some very disturbing ways.
I have just returned from attending the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 42nd annual legislative session. It was a stellar event that drew politicians, pundits, playwrights, players and persons of every other stripe. First Lady Michele Obama was the keynote speaker at the gala.
One of the highlights for me was a visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I was most favorably impressed. Entering the space that has been appropriately designed to pay tribute to our own fallen hero was akin to entering a cathedral: majestic in scale, magnificent in scope, modern in architectural beauty and moving beyond words.
I got there on a glorious, bright morning, along with tour buses carrying folks from all over the world who no doubt understood the impact of MLK — and his words.
Only a few of his words for which he is most well-known were selected to be carved along a wall that anchored the space and I selected one set in particular to memorialize on my cell phone camera:
“Make a career of humanity; commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” — District of Columbia, 1967.
I was particularly impressed by those words because of where I was, at the Legislative Black Caucus on the eve of a presidential election.
Yes, the parties were de rigueur and all the people in attendance were “beautiful” but we have a serious divide amongst us that was honed in by the message throughout the caucus sessions: We are a nation divided into those who cherish the struggle that has been long fought (and still not yet won) by those who have bought into it and have joined in the struggle, as MLK so eloquently defined, and those who have not.
Those who have not joined in the struggle are enjoying its fruits from the sidelines, sucking up the air that has been cleaned, sitting in the front of the bus, drinking from one water fountain spigot, living next-door to the entire Diaspora — and staying at home on election day.
I am outraged to know that this election may be won by those who chose to sit it out.
My stay in D.C. made clear that we are a divided nation and while the war must be continually fought on several fronts, our right to vote was won by blood and is the most sacred right we have in this country and to squander it is tantamount to being un-American.
During her brilliant speech, Michelle Obama reminded us of this fundamental issue facing the nation in the next few weeks and suggested that since we have won so many important battles along the way —and they are all good — this upcoming election is today’s “March,” this is our “Sit In” — turning out the vote.
You don’t have to go to Washington to know that we are living in a most critical time, that your vote is precious and that to exercise it is not just a right, it is a gift — a gift that was given to us to use, over and over, and yet only having been won so recently in our tenure in this country.
The last sight I saw before leaving my nation’s capital was the infrastructure of the African American History Museum immediately adjacent to the Washington Memorial, as it should be, and it spoke volumes to me.
It said we are getting there but we’re still under construction.
Vote, vote, vote, and join in a most noble enterprise to make yourself, your country, the world, finer.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org