My life’s history and most of my experiences are tied to the south. I was born one year before Brown versus the Board of Education. Yet, I still attended segregated schools from Kindergarten through the eleventh grade. My education after high school was provided by a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), a state university, and flagship university. I was educated in South Carolina and Georgia. I’ve lived all my life in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. I was a high school student when Dr. King was assassinated.
My generation came of age during the struggle for civil rights. I experienced segregated lunch counters and restrooms. I once drank from a white’s only water fountain just to see what would happen. I remember Bloody Sunday and the march from Selma to Montgomery. I was a part of a southern generation where Blacks were born to both low expectations and limited opportunities. However, I have witnessed a time of transition when people of color successfully competed for opportunities solely based on their ambition and acumen.
Dr. King was a part of each step forward. He was there with Rosa Parks in Montgomery. The results of leadership provided fair access to public accommodation. He was here in Albany when the Freedom Singers and others made a brave stand that led to improvements in the quality of life in this community. Dr. King led the marchers across the Edmond Pettis Bridge. When they arrived in Montgomery it was all but certain that the Voting Rights Bill of 1965 would pass. King moved on to Chicago and other northern cities. The result was that we can live anywhere we can afford to buy a home. Because of Dr. King, all Americans can have fair access to public accommodations and almost all colleges and universities. Americans also have the liberty to live where we would like, hold public office, and exercise our right to vote. The opportunities for all Americans are better. However, the struggle persists.
Dr. King was focused on poverty when he died. He died seeking dignity and fair pay for sanitation workers in Memphis. He died planning a poor people’s march on Washington. I believe his mantra, would have been equal access to opportunity for all Americans.
I’m proud to live in a state that took the next steps. The HOPE Grant and Scholarship along with Strategic Career Initiative have provided the resources for all eligible Georgians to compete for employment based on ambition and talent. High school dual enrollment provides opportunity for all Georgia’s secondary students to move on to career education in a college setting when ready. I say with confidence that Dr. King would tell us to celebrate his accomplishments, but to honor his legacy by strongly encouraging Georgians to take advantage of all opportunities the Georgia General Assembly and four successive Governors have provided for us.