A message with meaning

January 21, 2014

The Rev. Jimmy Gilchrist, the president of the Robeson County Black Caucus, during an event on Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. jokingly suggested — we will paraphrase — that in order for a black to get a job in Robeson County, first he or she had to be elected to public office.

We get Gilchrist’s point, and agree that cronyism, nepotism and political favors too often rule in Robeson County when it comes to hiring for governmental jobs, but not so when it comes to the private sector. In that world, where competition culls the herd, hiring is guided by who best can perform the job.

With apologies to Gilchrist, who was clearly joking, his was a pretty cynical message on a day honoring Dr. King, who envisioned a world of opportunity for everybody regardless of the color of their skin. No, this road has not been fully traveled, but the taller barriers today are self-erected and not imposed.

This newspaper covers the events honoring Dr. King every year on his holiday, and the words are numbingly the same, of praise for Dr. King — and little else.

We long to hear a new message, to the benefit of all, but especially those in the black community. We want to hear from the bully pulpit better directions to prosperity, which are agonizingly apparent yet unforgivably fleeting.

We will even assemble them.

“If you want to seize the opportunities that were once denied but now are available because of Dr. King’s life and death, if you want better for you and your children than your ancestors enjoyed, here is the quickest and most certain path. Stay in school until you either have a skill that will land you a job, or you have a degree that will make you employable. Then delay marriage — and most importantly — having children until you and yours are financially stable.

“Sadly folks, as we gather today to honor Dr. King, that is not our reality in the black community, where 75 percent of our children are born to unwed women, where our children are twice as likely to drop out of high school without a degree than are their white brothers and sisters, and are 40 times as likely to end up in prison.

“This, and not the late Jim Crow, is what is denying Black America today — and it is up to us to do better. After we do, only then will we have seized the opportunities that Dr. King labored and then died for us to have, and truly paid tribute to this mountain of a man.”

These are words that might reroute a young person toward a better life, but we fear that they aren’t screamed because no one has the courage to do so — and too few want to hear them.