What Happened to the Dream?

As the nation celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, I'm left to ponder my own existence juxtaposed against his prophetic words on a late August day in 1963.
01/18/2016 03:47 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2017

As the nation celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, I'm left to ponder my own existence juxtaposed against his prophetic words on a late August day in 1963. Unlike most Americans of my generation, at the time King and the Civil Rights Movement pushed the nation to a more hopeful and better place, I lived in the shadows so deep, I'd never heard of Dr. King. In fact, the first time I heard of a king that didn't have something to do with medieval times, was the day Dr. King was assassinated.

Like many of you born in later generations, I learned of King from history books, despite the fact that I was ten-years-old when he died. As described in my book 7-10 Split: My Journey as America's Whitest Black Kid, I remember how foolish I felt when my 5th grade class spent the entire morning talking about Dr. King. It was obvious most of my cherubic classmates knew something about King.

When we produced the official book trailer for my memoir, I was moved by both the history of America and my painful introduction to her -- how our collective experiences are intertwined in the names and faces of those who went before us that we never meet.

One advantage, or disadvantage, depending upon one's perspective, of being a military brat is the thrill of living in places beyond American shores. For me, it was Madrid, Spain at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, including the year Dr. King delivered arguably his most famous oratory -- I Have a Dream. Spain was paradise.

Global communication as we know it today, didn't exist back them, shielding me from hatred, bigotry, separate but equal, vitriol and the great debates that populated much of America's public discourse on race relations. After three years, we moved to Canada (not really, Maine's northeastern corner) for an additional four years.

By the time I realized America had a racial problem, I was rapidly approaching my teenage years. The lessons I learned while forced to play catch up, cut me to the core. I still wince all these years later.

I'm writing this story the same day Oscar nominations were announced. For the second year in a row many will watch an award ceremony bereft of people of color, masked in the hosting talents of the great Chris Rock, and the handful of minority presenters.

Last week also happened to feature GOP debate number 99, or so it seemed, where once again Donald Trump and his GOP brethern reminded us of their collective disdain for immigrants.

The year 2015, found a nation that at times appears more reminiscent of the 1950s than the twenty-first century -- the rash of murdered unarmed black men was just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet, I remain hopeful that the positive and painful lessons of my youth provide a unique perspective that allows me to embrace the dream and share the beauty of togetherness that I yearn for.

In the words of Dr. King:

"We have come to this hallowed spot, to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism."

To learn more about this author and speaker go to www.michaelgordonbennett.com. 7-10 Split: My Journey As America's Whitest Black Kid --- It's more than a memoir!