- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

As I reflect on the meaning and importance of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American to be elected president of our great nation, I am reminded of the dream of Martin Luther King and the African-American narrative, and how it parallels the American dream and the American narrative. As King’s dream is rooted in the American dream, so is the African-American narrative rooted in the American narrative.

A peoples’ narrative may be defined as “a coherent arrangement of facts and myths explaining the group’s past and present and embodying their hopes for the future.”

Since slavery, African-Americans have been constructing a narrative as a group that, much like my father’s dream, is rooted in the ideal American narrative. Like the ideal American dream, the ideal American narrative tells of a nation whose ideals - its values and principles, it mores and norms - are the sacred substance of life and liberty, justice and equality, opportunity and responsibility.

The substance of the American dream is expressed in these sublime words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

My father’s dream is a profound, eloquent and unequivocal expression of a world where the dignity and worth of all human personality are its ideals. It is a dream of a nation where men of all races, colors and creeds “live together as brothers” - he added, “or perish as fools.”

Today, African-Americans have the opportunity to shape the substance of its narrative and realize its full promise. Perhaps most striking is the main character in this chapter of that narrative: a black man who will serve as the most powerful person in the world.

But, let us not be confused. The president-elect is not the only writer of this narrative any more than he is the story’s only character. Today, the African-American narrative will be written from the inkwells of all African-Americans - our civil society, our business community, our political “electeds” and every citizen. The question is what will we - each of us - write?

The ideal answer is certain to be found in understanding and interpreting my father’s dream narrative. His vision of its significance to the American dream itself saw that this nation could not realize its fullest potential unless each and every American has “the untrammeled opportunity to fulfill his or her total individual capacity without regard to race, creed, color” or any other qualifier. This in essence is my father’s dream.

These ideas recognize that the American narrative is not black or white, red or blue, right or left; it is simply the very substance of the American dream. Realizing the American dream must be a complete possibility for every American, not just for the self-centered individual or the privileged few.

Three years ago, I founded Realizing the Dream, an organization whose mission is rooted in the narrative for America espoused in my father’s dream. I believe that narrative holds that, without redressing poverty through opportunity, building community through civic engagement and fostering peace through nonviolent action, we fall short of our potential as a nation.

Will we ever get to the Promised Land? In this time of challenge and controversy, what will be each American’s contribution to the narrative? The ultimate measure of the answer to these questions will be found in our individual commitment to realizing the true meaning of the American dream.

The American narrative cannot realize its greatest promise unless the narratives of all it peoples are part of that promise, unless the promise of that narrative includes all of America’s people, and unless out of our many we truly are one.

Five short years from now, when we reflect upon the 50th anniversary of my father’s dream speech, let us look back and celebrate our audacity to redress poverty, to take charge of our lives and our communities, and to prevent unjust wars from ever being waged.

Then, let us look forward to the rest of this century as we stand together, because our potential as a people is limitless; and work together, because our ability to do good in the world is boundless; and live together, because the ideals of fairness and full justice, of opportunity and equality are the American narrative.

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