Until the 5th grade, I grew up in Oklahoma. My family lived in a university town, so there were probably more ethnic minorities than one might expect in the middle of nowhere, USA. I had lots of Southeast Asian friends, several Middle-Eastern friends, and a few black friends. We all talked and laughed and played together. I was aware that those friends and I were outwardly different, but it wasn't a big deal.
When my family moved to Georgia, racial segregation was immediately apparent. Even as a 10-year-old, I could tell the Southeast was essentially formed from only two ethnic groups: whites and blacks. And those groups did not mix. There were more blacks than I had ever seen in one place. I remember going to a large mall that first week and later learning it was a "black mall." During lunch at school, there was a distinct separation of white kids and black kids. I learned that -- like so many other "different" people in the South-- blacks were inherently not as good as other people.
When rap and hip-hop became mainstream, things changed a bit. White teens became friends with black teens in school, but they probably wouldn't have done anything together outside of school. There might have been one or two blacks who were welcomed into a white social group, but for whites, those one or two black friends were exceptions and for blacks, those one or two black friends were traitors. It was the same the other way around, too. The handful of white girls who hung out with blacks were seen by other whites as trashy.
In the 15 years since then, I things have changed a lot. I think there is less racism and segregation in the Southeast, but then again, I lived the last 7 or 8 years of that time in Atlanta. In rural areas of Georgia, I would still expect to see a fair amount of segregation. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that people wouldn't judge each other by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. It was a good dream, but I don't think America is there quite yet. Still, I'm amazed that one man had such influence. That the changes that are still happening started in large part because of him. It makes me wonder about my life. What am I changing in the world? How am I making it a better place?
I don't typically have such thoughts on MLK Day. For me, it's a relief from school and work and responsibility. But for some reason, I found myself listening to King's speeches on the radio today, and I was . . . Well, I was humbled. What a time for him to be alive! What a time to incite change in a nation! I would love to sit down and have a chat with him, and I wonder what he is busy doing in heaven . . .
Thing I am thankful for: time