As I write this column on the 66th anniversary of my natal day and the annual holiday celebration of the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it is easy to reflect on how Dr. King would see the black community today. To have come as a people from just asking to be allowed to have a seat at a lunch counter, to having the seat of the highest office in the land occupied by a black man, the strides that we as a people have made in this country surely are accomplishments he would consider monumental.

Dr. King said, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” He did not live to see many of the achievements that his Civil Rights movement accomplished. Nor did he live to see the failures purposely committed and orchestrated by some members of the black community who have no consciousness of their obligation to seek and achieve the Promised Land.

The Promised Land is as much physical as it is mental. In terms of public accommodations, access to education, access to employment, access to everything proclaimed by the U.S. Constitution, we as a people have achieved it. However, achieving and appreciating are two different things. And when one doesn’t appreciate the access that has been opened up for us, there can be no accomplishments or strides or gains.

One of the most basic steps the black community can take toward a Promised Land is to clean up and not litter the land we occupy in our neighborhoods. It is an absolute disgrace the way black communities are defined by the garbage that is purposely tossed on the ground by trifling individuals who seem intent on feeding rats and other pests because they are too lazy to put garbage in a container. Even worse is when that litter is in the front yard of homes owned by black people. To see some of the most expensive alcohol bottle brands being tossed on the ground shows the pure classlessness of the individuals who drank it. 

Education has always been the road to the Promised Land. Yet for far too many young black children urban schools are more about fashion and hair and less about reading, writing, and arithmetic. We keep hearing stories about how black women are the most educated and are predominant on college campuses, and that is a good thing. But we cannot afford to lose our boys and young men, because we need them to become as equally yoked as the women.

We are 20 years into the 21st century. The lame excuses of the past become more and more unacceptable as we languish while others prosper. I cannot deny the effects of slavery, but at the same time we cannot become so co-dependent on it as an excuse that nothing gets done.