In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., his life, his legacy, and the thousands of men and women who fought alongside him for equal rights, I've embedded the video of King's "I Have a Dream" speech below. But before that, today is as good as any to speak frankly about who we have been, who we are, and who we as Mississippians will become.
We have made tremendous progress in Mississippi in the 50 years since MLK delivered this speech. We no doubt are a better, more just, loving, and moral people than we were then.
But we are not who we could be.
We are not who we should be.
We are not the people God would have us be.
When a young black child born in Mississippi faces a higher infant mortality rate than a young black child born in Botswana, we are failing.
When blacks make up 36% of our state's population, but are 75% of our state's prison population, we are failing.
When black Mississippians face an unemployment rate twice that of white Mississippians, we are failing.
Our Savior told us there were ultimately but two great commandments: To love God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. I'd say that Mississippians, as religious as we are, are excelling at the first. But as to the second? We are failing.
We as Mississippians have been blessed with creative talent at a pace rivaled by no one. We have given the world blues, rock & roll, and country. We have changed the face of American literature, dazzled the world of sports with our athletes, and warmed the hearts of millions with a frog from Deer Creek. There is very little we cannot do.
Why should we not turn that mighty combination of imagination and ability on our problems here at home? Why should we not spend the next 50 years fixing the inequities in our Mississippi society rather than enshrining them through the same race-based and class-based politics we've followed since the days of Jim Crow?
Why should we not value our children enough to fully fund public education and pay their teachers a competitive wage?
Why should we not build a sustainable healthcare system by accepting federal money to protect our hospitals and ensure that our doctors and nurses are paid for their services?
Why should we not pass an equal pay bill that guarantees every Mississippian, regardless of race or gender, pay for what they do, and not for who they are?
Is it that we are not capable? Or is it that we are not willing?
Are we to say that we are loving our neighbors as ourselves when we refuse to help educate their children? When we let our neighbors suffer without access to the doctors and medicine we have? When we build an economy in which the wealthy can participate, but our neighbors cannot?
We are capable of all of these things and more. Whether we are willing is the central moral and religious question this new generation of Mississippians must answer.