Dear Dr. King,
I am writing to respond to the letter you wrote while incarcerated in Birmingham in April 1963. In that letter you addressed a number of issues related to your fight for freedom and equality for yourself and your fellow Negroes. Today, citizens of the United States who are of African decent are no longer referred to as Negroes; the term most commonly used now is “African-American.” Much has changed for African-Americans since the day you wrote that letter. Some things have gotten much better, but unfortunately some things have gotten far worse than you could imagine. The fight for civil rights that you fought for so valiantly was won, and legislation was passed that ended segregation in the United States. The new laws were not enough to change people’s attitudes, however, and the end of segregation did not mean the end of racism. Even those with the best of intentions sometimes created circumstances that presented new challenges and obstacles for African-Americans. Despite the achievements of the civil rights movement, America still has a significant race problem.
In the late 1960s President Lyndon Johnson proposed that America could become “the Great Society,” and as the wealthiest nation in the world should be able to care for all of its citizens. The young, the old, the poor, and the sick should have access to education, health care, and food, and the federal government established programs to help those who were in need. These programs did do a lot of good for a lot of people, and similar programs still exist today that help many people. Unfortunately, these programs also helped to disrupt the most important part of the African-American community. Some programs only helped single mothers, giving those who needed help an incentive not to marry. This was a bad idea, as children need both parents of they are going to thrive. The biggest problem in the African-American community today is that far too many children are growing in single-parent homes, with no father to guide them. This has led to enormous problems in the African-American community.
These welfare programs are not the only cause of problems in the African-American community, of course, Racism still drives many problems, and serves to limit the opportunities African-Americans have. It is understandable that if there are no jobs available, and the government programs are the only means of support, that people will naturally turn to those programs for help. African American men are twice as likely as white men to be unemployed, and African-American men who work in jobs comparable to those held by White men earn an average of 25% less than the White men. African American men are 7 times more likely to be incarcerated than are White men, and African American men serve sentences that are an average of ten months longer than the sentences served by White men.
African American males between the ages of 15 and 19 are 46 times more likely to die from homicides than are young white males of the same age range. African-American males are more likely than White males to contract HIV (a deadly disease that did not exist in your time) are more likely to drop out of high school, and are less likely to go to college. Finally African American males have average lifespans that are significantly shorter than those of White males. Many African American males are born into lives of poverty and few opportunities, and it is easy to understand why many of them turn to lives of crime and violence simply to survive.
Not all the news is bad, however. There is something I was waiting to tell you that might cheer you up after reading all that bad news: The United States currently has an African American president named Barack Obama. And President Obama was not only elected once, he was reelected and is currently serving his second term. African Americans have become doctors and lawyers and Senators and teachers and have filled every other occupation imaginable. Life is challenging for far too many African Americans, but it also offers opportunities for many that simply did not exist during your lifetime.
A recent study showed that the number of African American males enrolled in colleges and universities is now larger than the number of African Americans that are incarcerated. This may seem like a small accomplishment, but it is a move in the right direction. At the end of your letter, you wrote that you hoped “in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” Not all African Americans can see that those shining stars, but some can, and someday hopefully everyone in America and around the world will see them shine.
Bouie, Jamelle. “More Black Men in College than in Prison.” The American Prospect. N.p., 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 May 2013.
“The Crisis of the African-American Male |.” A Blog of the African Diaspora. N.p., 8 June 2007. Web. 30 May 2013.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.].” African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2013.
“WHY BLACK MALES?” Research Brought To Life : College Of Criminology & Criminal Justice : Florida State University. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2013.