On January 21, 2013 and the 27th annual Martin Luther King Day—Our nation’s first African-American President, Barack Obama, placed his hands on the bibles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln, and took oath into his second term of office.
In his Inaugural Address, formatted with the same instilling and rhythmic nature of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, President Obama delivered a series of remarkable messages acknowledging the changes that are upon us, presenting courses of action we must take and insisting that we must do it all as one.
President Obama has always been a captivating speaker, but it was more than the style of his delivery that made this inaugural address so momentous.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and ended legal slavery in the United States. We were a country divided, and Lincoln faced the utmost criticism of states seceding from the Union and ultimately, engaging in a Civil War. Eventually, victory was evident and slavery was no longer accepted in the U.S. but the battle didn’t end there.
One hundred years later, a Baptist minister from the South began his own battle for civil rights for African Americans. He was tested, ridiculed, threatened, yet he continued to protest the injustice peacefully, never resorting to violence. In 1963, he helped organize and lead the “March to Washington” all the way to the steps of the light which guided him—the Lincoln Memorial. Here he delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech, ultimately leading to the end of segregation in the U.S.
Now, nearly fifty years later, we are witnessing a man who is continuing a legacy. With his captivating words, President Obama rekindled the flame of the same guiding light Martin Luther King illuminated over the dark, unjust inequality that existed in 1960’s America, and exposed it to the inequalities that exist in America today.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still…”
Led by that star, he described American citizens as modern-day pioneers on an incomplete journey; a journey that can only be completed by the restoration of equality for all, including:
“For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”
Our LGBT Community:
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Active Participants of our Democratic system:
“Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”
And our nation’s innocence—the lives of our children; both animate and deceased:
“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”
What makes these three significant figures so extraordinary is their untarnished courage to speak out and act against the inequalities that are considered the “norm” of our time. They are game-changers; completely aware of the opposition they face, but take the risk anyway simply because it is necessary.
The theme of Obama’s first Presidential campaign was “Change” and he knows that in order to create change and progress, we must be forced out of our comfort zone but it takes a certain undying courage. That type of bravery doesn’t come often, and we are witnessing it.
Currently, he’s forcing America out of its comfort zone and establishing a foundation for a new America, a better America; compelling us to reform our way of thinking in order to be more accepting and, essentially, embrace the true meaning of, “The most evident of truths- that all of us are created equal” not because it is favored, but because it is right.