Forty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial addressing the nation and the world with a dream and a challenge. King's dream of equality, justice, and peace is embedded in our minds and hearts. His challenge to America to pay her promissory note to all her citizens is one we should not forget. While we have made much progress toward the fulfillment of King's dream, we are not there yet. African-Americans continue to be underrepresented in corporations, colleges, and elected offices'but overrepresented among the incarcerated, unemployed, and sufferers of chronic illnesses. Discrimination continues to plague our society.
Today, King's dream is threatened by time, a new world order, new political priorities, and a new adversary more cunning and deadly than any of the anti'civil rights forces of the late '50s and early '60s: HIV. AIDS is devastating black, brown, and poor communities and destroying our families.
This year we need to call on all people of goodwill to join in efforts to stop HIV from killing the dream.There are lessons we can learn from the 1963 march. Paralysis, stigma, denial, and lack of organization have often hampered our efforts to beat back AIDS. We all know about King's speech. But the march did not begin on the morning of August 28, 1963. And King was not the only leader. The chief architect of the 1963 march was a young Bayard Rustin, a pacifist, socialist, and homosexual. Other leaders in the march were Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, Whitney Young Jr., and the youngest speaker at the march, John Lewis.
Every civil rights organization was called into service, along with each group's allies. Rustin was a master organizer. Months before the march he sent out manuals to thousands of organizations. The organizers identified stakeholders from all sectors. In the end, the march succeeded because failure was not an option and the organizers and their followers prepared for success.
There is similar hope today still. This summer more than 300,000 African-Americans from all sectors of the black community attended black conferences and conventions. From professional organizations and fraternities and sororities to civil rights organizations and faith-based groups, traditional black institutions gathered in the months of June through August to review past accomplishments, analyze the state of black America, and set future agendas. Virtually every black leader and anyone with aspirations of becoming a black leader attended one or more of these gatherings. There is no better opportunity to get black communities across America to focus on a specific issue.
This year one of the issues they focused on was HIV'at workshops, plenary sessions, and photo exhibits, and with special AIDS newsletters. People were told about the magnitude of the epidemic in their communities, urged to action, and given suggestions of what they might do in their local communities. There was a town hall meeting in Dallas attended by more than 2,500 people where over 400 of them got tested for HIV. In Los Angeles 45,000 newsletters were distributed. There is something going on.
Maybe it's because it's the 40th anniversary of the 1963 march. Maybe folks are just sick and tired of being sick and tired. Whatever it is, we must share with them our dream of a world without HIV.
Wilson is the founding director of the Los Angeles'based Black AIDS Institute.