With MLK Day as a backdrop, I'm reminded of the inclusiveness of his leadership as he inspired and encouraged contemporaries like Cesar Chavez who was leading the farm worker's movement which also included boycotts and commitment to nonviolence. A month before he was murdered, Dr. King sent Chavez a telegram during his 25 day fast in Delano:
"As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members...You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized."
With that message to Chavez, Dr. King celebrated the similarities in the African American and Latino struggles for equality. Forty-six years later, Hispanics and Blacks unfortunately continue to share struggles: pregnancy rates, graduation rates, incarceration rates, negative stereotypes, and many others. However, I want to focus on the optimism of that telegram. The spirit of encouragement of that telegraph. The solidarity of that telegraph and the great promise our communities are capable of to not only overcome challenges but that together our "dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized." In other words, Dr. King was celebrating the power of our collective communities -- we can't afford to be victims, we need to be part of the solution.
And it's critical as part of the solution for Black and Brown work together, not divided, to help move America forward. Why? Because America has no choice but to count on minorities -- according to the Census, about half of the nation's 15 largest regions are majority-minority cities including New York and Los Angeles. For the first time in history, minorities make up a majority of babies in the United States. And America is projected to become a "minority majority" some estimate even before the projected year of 2050.
But it will take a conscious effort despite Dr. King's noble intentions to have Black and Brown join forces. When President Obama ran for president I was appalled by the racially-charged comments of many Latinos I knew and used to respect. During the current heated immigration reform debate I've been greatly disheartened by the ethnically-charged comments of many African Americans. We have more in common that we do differences.
But as the Latino population continues to grow as the second largest majority in America, it has often been thought of as a contest with the African American community. The idea of a competition deeply concerns me and is a divisive element between the two largest minorities. Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, small businesses, etc. should not be thought of as a football or baseball diamond to compete but rather on which to play together as a team.
So, yes, the numbers are eye-popping but they are just that, numbers. Unless there is a collective strategy for growth, moral codes and community engagement -- and high standards. Yes, high standards that Dr. King always adhered to during his short but impactful life.
With that in mind, I have great confidence in African American and Latino youth to not be average or even good but great. Great at home, in the classroom, in the workforce, and in our communities. We need leadership which can hold in check the baggage of old battles, resentments, the years of being pitted against each other.
Latinos and African Americans, along with Asian, LGBT, females, disabled and other communities need to come together to fulfill Dr. King's vision that "our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized." Yes, together.