As we enter the week of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the seminal public expression of the 20th century Civil Rights Movement, stark reminders remain that display the magnitude of our nation's unfinished business. There has been undeniable progress in policy and access to opportunity for historically disenfranchised communities of color. And yet, poverty, violence, incarceration, immigration reform, racism, economic injustice and political paralysis continue to serve as perpetual obstacles to a fully inclusive society capable of delivering an inter-related social contract that widens the circle of concern. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us all of America's promissory note of fairness and opportunity being tantamount to a check being returned to its sender marked with insufficient funds. He was right 50 years ago... and he is still right today.
On April 19, 1971, Gil Scott-Heron recorded an iconic song called "The Revolution Will Not BeTelevised." In an interview during the '90s, he said, "That song was about your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move... The thing that's going to change people will be something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It will just be something you see and all of a sudden you realize 'I'm on the wrong page.'" This eternal truth is expressed in the Wisdom Literature of scripture when Proverbs 23:7 declares: "As a person thinks in their heart, so are they." Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, your heart will be there also." In this context, I understand Jesus saying, "What you value, you will love!"
If we are going to move past dreams and visions to reality and experience, the next great revolution must be both internal and televised. It must be one committed to the hard work of humanizing the poor and marginalized. Seeing them as created in the image of God anddeserving of inalienable rights endowed first by our Creator, and reassured in our country's founding documents. That's why I agree with Gil Scot-Heron that our minds and hearts must first be changed, for every great revolution begins with an internal one. And I am also convinced that this revolution must concurrently be televised through a robust and intentional demonstration of personal decision AND public policies.
This idea that the changing of one's mind and way of thinking is a prerequisite for sustainable change strikes me as the next great revolution. I want to submit that the mind change most needed in our society is an axiological or value-based transformation. What do we value? Who do we value? How are we prepared to demonstrate this value? As I observe the interconnected nature of our lives, the personal, the social, the communal, the national and the global, it is impossible to move along a trajectory of social inclusion and reconcile the myth of radical individuality. A myth imposed upon us as a predominant narrative reinforced in policy, ethics, and morals, constantly reinforcing the notion that we are all on our own. The truth is, we have never been on our own. As Dr. King says, "We are all tied to a single garment of destiny. And what affects one directly, affects us all indirectly."
The truth is, what we value and who we value are not disconnected, nor is how we demonstrate this value some antecedent tangent. But when we value someone or something, alignment of purpose, intentionality, prioritization, ownership and responsibility naturally follow. So the question is, "Do we value everyone equally, regardless of race, income, class and social location?" What does it say that 50 years after the March on Washington and Rev. King's I Have a Dream speech that the racial inequities of income, health, education and opportunity remain the same and in some cases has widened? That you can predict a person's health outcome based off the zip code they live in? That our political process has been taken hostage by big monied groups and lobbyists like the NRA and other special interests groups who buy elections and calcify partisanship? That we still need the Attorney General or state judges to declare practices of policing and the criminal justice system inherently biased? It says to me that our next great revolution must be a moral one, grounded in our value for each other's humanity and the totality of our human lives.
In an insightful research-based essay, John Powell explains the persistent presence of racial anxiety connected to our national discomfort around an explicit engagement of race. He shows how neuroscience uncovers the subconscious inner workings of racial bias and anxiety, as well as how this knowingly for some, and unknowingly for others, reinforces a structurally-biased system that excludes some and includes others, that criminalizes some and rewards others. It's a system of values, unconsciously grounded in race and class, that creates a certain assumption of who we value, who is deserving and who belongs. Economically poor people, Muslims, immigrants, our incarcerated and returning citizens, and welfare recipients all are revealed as nationally disdained subconsciously, by even those who fall into these descriptions. This disdain and bias undergirds a system of interlocking forces that reinforce and structuralize inequity, dehumanization and overly punitive punishments, creating nearly impossible barriers to opportunity.
We must make personal decisions AND public policies that demonstrate the value of life we place on those who are disdained in our society. We must decide to enter into deep relationships, conversations, and story-sharing with people who fall into groups we don't agree with. AND we must institutionalize cultural competency and implicit bias trainings into professional development curriculum for public sector employees like police, teachers and public administrators. We must decide to not shoot one another because we disagree with each other or have fear of one another; AND we must enact common sense gun laws, policies and trauma-informed interventions that make it impossible for youth, the mentally ill and criminals to engage in deadly violence. We must decide to study hard and work hard; AND we must enact public policy that dismantles the school-to-prison pipeline, invests in education and pays livable wages. We must decide to move beyond our racial animus and bias; AND we must enact public policy that does not make it possible for unconscious or conscious bias to more harshly punish certain despised groups through drug sentences, pathways to citizenship or bank lending practices. We must embrace the complexity of all our human strengths and weaknesses, while creating space for redemption, restoration and opportunity.
These kinds of revolutionary commitments will ensure that 50 years from now, we won't be returning to Washington, D.C. for the centennial celebration of this American watershed moment, still harkening to a Dream that was meant to be a prophetic declaration of who we are to become. Rather, we will return to D.C. to celebrate the courageous path forged together through the wilderness of exclusion, to the promised land of belonging and the Beloved Community. Sign me up for this next Great Revolution.