King’s speech proposed a vision of equality for all states throughout our country, a vision that we must continue to work toward in Oklahoma. A little more than 50 years have passed since the day King shared his dream with the nation. Each year, we are reminded of that dream with a federally recognized holiday.
As Oklahomans, we must ask ourselves, “Has our state progressed toward the fulfillment of the dream, or do we still have work to do?” Oklahoma is a state with a rich civil rights tradition, and our history tells of African-Americans who fought for their rights to attend the University of Oklahoma law school, as did Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher. Leaders including George Henderson and his family becoming the first African-American family to own a home in Norman. Heroes like Clara Luper, who led one of the first sit-ins in the nation in Oklahoma City at Katz Drug Store, leading to the eventual desegregation of all eating establishments in Oklahoma City six years later.
Indeed, we have come a long way, and the challenges faced by African-Americans are among the greatest of any minority group the state of Oklahoma has seen, but have we realized King’s dream?
Have we realized King’s dream when the old hate has, rather than being extinguished, only been replaced with new hate? Have we realized the dream of justice when Muslims in Oklahoma are the continued target of demonization and vilification by elected officials?
Have we realized the dream of equality when schools have been desegregated by law but still remain racially, economically and socially segregated? Have we, as Oklahomans, learned to move beyond our prejudices when we start out the New Year with a hate crime in Tulsa in which an Arab Christian woman is the victim of ignorant bias based upon the perception that she is Muslim?
It would seem that even though we have made progress in our state, hatred and injustices still exist; but hope must not be lost. As Oklahomans and Americans, we should find our beacon of light in the great words of King.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Moving forward, we look to the hope that as years pass, we will find Oklahoma a place where equality and justice reign supreme. We must learn to celebrate our diversity and our differences and allow them to bring us closer together as people.
As Oklahoma City’s Imam Imad Enchassi always reminds his congregation, “We must learn to disagree without being disagreeable.” We don’t have to love one another, but we must learn to respect one another; only then can we bring our state closer to the vision that King proposed in 1963. We cannot be satisfied with an Oklahoma that is anything less than welcoming and just to individuals of all walks of life.
Soltani is executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations.
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