By Michael Larson, a Senior at Gonzaga University.
57 years ago. That’s how long it’s been since Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most powerful speeches in the history of our country. “I have a dream,” he said. He believed in a world where Black and white children could live together peacefully. He dreamt about a world where Black people in this country would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. A lot has changed since that day on August 28th, 1963 and a lot hasn’t.
“Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” the crowd shouted. It was my first time in Washington D.C and in front of me were the steps of the Lincoln Memorial along with approximately 100,000 marchers. It was the exact same place where Martin Luther King Jr. gave that unforgettable speech. I bought my ticket to D.C two months earlier when I heard there was going to be a second March On Washington on August 28th, 2020. I knew I had to go.
I’m from a mid-size city called Everett, thirty minutes north of Seattle. This past summer I helped organize and lead two Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. As a Black man, it’s hard for me to describe in words the feelings of immense anger and hopelessness that passed over me as I watched the video of George Floyd’s brutal killing. Am I next? This is the question I keep asking myself as Black men and women continue to be killed by police officers across the United States. How long do I have before it happens to me? I’ve already been pulled over five times and only one of those times was for the way I was driving. I’m only 21 years old. When will my name, Michael Larson, be in the news as another unarmed Black man killed by a police officer?
After falling into this dark pit of internal questioning, I remind myself that I must remain hopeful. Things are beginning to change. Black men and women fought for years during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s for the rights that I get to enjoy today. They marched, they died, they sacrificed everything in hopes that those who came after them would have the rights and opportunities they never had growing up. In 1963, only 57 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. talked about that dream he had for his children and his children’s children. In many ways, I am a living example of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream coming to fruition.
August 28th, 2020 is a day I will never forget. It reminded me that we have a duty to continue to fight for social justice. As a country we must wrestle with the fact that Black people are disproportionately killed by police officers at a higher percentage than white people. Unless changes are made, these patterns will continue. It starts with awareness and educating ourselves about these issues and the history of them. This is nothing new, it’s been happening ever since this country was founded. Once we become aware and learn about these injustices of police brutality, it becomes our duty to act and to use our voice. It’s not enough not to be racist, we have to be anti-racist. I have hope for where our country can go if we act now and make the changes in our criminal justice system that need to be made and start working to understand and change all of the ways institutional racism is rooted in our society. I have hope that one day my kids will not have to fear for their lives when they come into contact with police officers. And I have hope that we as a country can change, but it’s going to take every one of us. When we talk about 2020 in the future, will we talk about the ways we contributed to fighting for racial justice for Black Americans? Or will we talk about our complacency?