This op-ed from Herscchel Walker originally appeared in The Augusta Chronicle.
On a hot August afternoon in 1963, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream for America.
Through his immortal words, he opened the eyes of a nation to the injustices faced by millions of black people. He also called upon our leaders to enact legislation to right those wrongs. More importantly, he called on all of us to recognize that every human being is made in the image of God.
Dr. King had a specific vision for his home state of Georgia. In his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, he said, “I have a dream that one day in the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
At the time of his speech, racism and segregation were written into our laws. For legislators, the action items were clear. Something had to change. When the Civil Rights Acts were finally signed into law, Dr. King’s dream began to become reality.
Thankfully, America looks completely different than it did back then. By law, skin color no longer prevents people from being admitted to schools, hired by businesses, or becoming successful in any field. In fact, in many cases, it can be an asset as many businesses and schools recognize the value of diverse thinking and, therefore, strive for more diversity. I am proof that if you put your head down, work hard, and look for the best in people, the opportunities in America are endless—no matter who you are or where you come from.
Unfortunately, there are many people who do not want to recognize the significant and measurable progress that has been made. Instead, they are actively working to divide us and set us back. I know they don’t have bad intentions, but they’re sending the wrong message. Dr. King didn’t want more division.
Growing up poor and black in a small town called Wrightsville, Georgia, I learned a thing or two about people who are racist. There were KKK marches in my town and we had major civil unrest in my high school. Instead of letting these experiences define me, I focused on exemplifying the Biblical commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. My parents taught me that with prayer and hard work, you can become whoever you want to be.
America is a place where you have a choice. You can choose to be a victim and believe that America is a fundamentally racist country, or you can focus on the progress that has been made, work hard, be an agent of change and be part of the solution — regardless of the color of your skin. Rather than letting my background define me, I got to work and God opened doors to opportunities that changed my life.
Today, people of different races, religions, and backgrounds across America unite to honor Dr. King’s vision and sacrifice. We celebrate the fact that over the last 60 years, people from all walks of life have joined together to push open the doors of opportunity for people who look like me and others. And we have walked right on through.
Sadly, instead of honoring Dr. King and the progress he inspired, some people are using this occasion to spread anger and division. It’s a shame, and it’s counterproductive. We need to honor the legacy of Dr. King by acknowledging the progress we have made.
Although we are never without problems on this side of heaven, we live in the greatest country in the world. People like me who grew up with very little can become C.E.O. of a multi-million-dollar business if they are willing to put in the work. That is the American dream that I am fighting to keep alive. Now, in the deep south, three black men are running for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat. Of course, there’s always more work to be done, but I think Dr. King would certainly be proud of just how far we have come.
Herschel Walker #34