By David Casey
I believe America is the greatest country on Earth. That was part of my motivation to voluntarily serve her as I did for eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps. However, our celebration of America's broad stripes and bright stars should not preclude us from challenging our country and ourselves to be better. To me, that's what the upcoming March on Washington represents—an opportunity to be better.
Although I was not yet born when Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech 50 years ago, I do know that many of the convictions and social challenges he laid before us are just as relevant and malignant in 2013 as they were in 1963. To be sure, we have made real progress in many respects, but in many others, we have not only made little to no progress, we have regressed.
Remove the date from any number of recent news stories and they could have just as well been time-stamped during the apex of the original civil-rights movement—challenges to voting rights; racial tensions due to social inequities and civil injustices such as racial profiling; socioeconomic disparities; unequal access to affordable, quality health care; unequal access to quality education; and unequal pay for equal work, to name a few. I heard it said recently that this moment in time and these issues are this generation's defining moment, as persuasive a call to action as the segregated lunch counters and back-of-the-bus Jim Crow laws were for past generations.
That may sound counterintuitive to some in 2013. After all, there were numerous declarations that President Obama's 2008 election was the dawn of a new day, what was deemed a "post-racial" America. With a Black (as he defines himself) President, hadn't Black Americans achieved the ultimate in equality? Good grief, aren't we done with the "race" discussion? Not hardly on either point. While having the race discussion may be a matter of convenience for some, it's a matter of everyday reality for me. For example, I can't simply decide when I wake up in the morning whether or not I'm going to be Black today. Instead, I am automatically in a cohort that's 80 percent more likely to be stopped and frisked for no other readily apparent variable than the color of my skin.
This is in no way meant to imply or endorse a victim mentality. As the hundreds of thousands expected for this year's march look to reinvigorate the movement ignited in 1963, I sincerely hope that the march inspires a younger generation not only to continue their social-media activism, but also to get personally involved within their communities. I trust that those who attend the mass gathering will walk away knowing the real work was not simply making it to Washington, D.C. Systemic, impactful and lasting change happens each and every day as we make conscious decisions about what actions we decide to take. Dr. King spoke of "unearned suffering," and it is how we choose to react to this oppression that changes our lives and the lives of others.
I do believe that my dream is the American dream. I do believe that America has the potential to one day embody the true meaning of its credo: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." I certainly hope these challenges that have endured for the past 50 years aren't the same challenges being vetted on the 100th anniversary of the first March on Washington.
America—the greatest country on Earth, with an opportunity to be better.
David Casey is Vice President, Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer at CVS Caremark, one of DiversityInc's 25 Noteworthy Companies.