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Fifty Years of 'The Dream': A Family History of Social Justice

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When I think about the March on Washington, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" Speech, I think about the legacy of the civil rights movement that I inherit, not only as an individual who has directly and profoundly benefited from the vision set forth that day, but as an advocate fighting for social justice still struggling to realize that vision. As I began to think more directly about the 50th anniversary we celebrate this weekend, it dawned on me how my own family's story is wrapped up in this history in ways both mundane and profound.

My mother came to this country in 1963. As a new immigrant, she was more concerned about survival skills in a new country far away from the home she knew in the Philippines than about civil rights marches. But, her new life here in the United States came to benefit immensely from the hard fought victories that came partly as a result of the vision that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Unwittingly, in just two more years, when my mother met my father, the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act in 1965 equalized the legal landscape of immigration giving people an equal shot at getting to this country whether they came from the Philippines or from France. So, the family my parents started to build together grew not only with my brothers and me, but with their siblings from my parents' generation. Together they created a network of mutual support with their children, my cousins who became almost as close as my brothers.

When I last checked, that network of support had given birth to soldiers and homemakers, teachers and community leaders. The fight we now wage for comprehensive immigration reform is informed by the conviction that countless immigrants like those in my family have made a positive impact on this country. And the knowledge that it would not have been possible but for the new vision of a multiracial America sparked by the civil rights movement.

My journey as a gay man also keeps time with this history. In August of 1993, as we celebrated thirty years of "the Dream," I was marking my own personal milestone of coming out of the closet and joining a whole new set of struggles for equality and justice. As a gay man who is also a person of color, I know in my bones the reality that while the struggles for racial justice and LGBT equality have different paths that defy oversimplified comparisons, at their core, they share a vision where love and justice build the beloved community.

When I witnessed the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2003, I was beginning my own journey as a civil rights advocate and was proud to consider myself to be at the very least, a very junior colleague to the luminaries who took the stage that day, including for the first time, representatives from the LGBT community -- Matt Foreman who was then the Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Mandy Carter, a founder of Southerners On New Ground (SONG) .

Fifty years since Dr. King shared his Dream with the nation, we are at another pivotal moment in civil rights history. We fight for justice on a number of fronts, for people of color, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and stand on the precipice where we can either move closer to the beloved community, or fall prey to fear and division. This anniversary gives us an opportunity to recommit ourselves to new visions of Dr. King's Dream reflecting new realities in the 21st century.