The power of democracy

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From a young age, I became intrigued with the civil rights movement and quickly adopted Martin Luther King, Jr., as one of my heroes.

His words sparked a fire deep inside me and I promised myself that I would always do what I could to fight injustice and racism in honor of his great legacy. What I admire most about King was his courage, his passion and his God-given ability to respond in love when encountering hate. King was eventually assassinated for his beliefs, and his death became another dark chapter in American history.

Last Tuesday night when Barack Obama was elected as this country's 44th president, I couldn't help thinking of Martin Luther King, as well as John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. These three men died for a cause that gave Americans the opportunity to elect a black man to this country's highest office. Their deaths were not in vain.

A passage from one of King's most famous speeches seems to give voice to the American journey that began in the streets of Birmingham and led to a gathering of more than 200,000 people in Chicago's Grant Park last week. The words King spoke 40 years ago bring solace today as America faces an uncertain future with a new leader at its helm - a leader who has inspired new hope in the hearts of so many Americans searching for change.

"Now I say to you, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments," said King. "Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of peace."

King's words bring comfort just as the words spoken by President-Elect Barack Obama did on the night of Nov. 4, 2008. History was made last Tuesday night, and I believe Obama's speech was reminiscent of the eloquent words spoken by King and the Kennedys. Our future president talked of hope and change and a unified America. He didn't come across as a conquering hero but instead seemed somber with the weight of history on his shoulders as well as the knowledge of the tough road that lies ahead.

To me, it was nothing short of miraculous that in 40 years time, America would have evolved to the point where its citizenry could elect a black man as president. Some of those voting in this election remembered a time when they were barred from this nation's polling places - their voices silenced by segregation. As Obama said in his speech on the night of Nov. 4, his election as president is an example of the limitless possibilities that are available to all who call the United States home. "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of democracy, tonight is your answer," Obama said.

This country's ability to change and reinvent itself makes me proud to be an American. I am proud to live in a country where people are free to vote for the candidate of their choice and free to speak openly about their views. This election inspired passion on both sides of the political fence, and the open discussion that preceded election day is part of what makes America so great. Citizens have the right to speak out about their beliefs without fear of persecution.

I am also proud to live in a country where people are free to fight for what they believe in and then have the decency to find common ground after the battle. It is my prayer that United States citizens will come together like never before and pledge to do their part to bring about real change that results in a strengthened and renewed belief in the greatness of this country. This pledge might require sacrifice and compromise, but in the end, America is worth every ounce of effort. Despite the valley we find ourselves in now, America remains the greatest country in the world. I know I wouldn't want to live any place else.

I know many of my readers did not vote for Barack Obama, but I hope now that the election is over they will offer him their prayers and support. This most recent addition to America's history books is truly inspirational. It's amazing to me that America could overcome its history of segregation and racial hate and become the kind of country where Obama's election to the presidency was possible. And to close with another excerpt from Obama's speech, "the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."