By Bill Euille
Fifty years ago — on August 28, 1963 — as a 13-year-old questioning what the heck was happening in our society and the world, I was glued to the TV, witnessing one of the greatest speeches ever given. My idol and mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was speaking at the national March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom event, which brought hundreds of thousands of people converging on the city from around the country.
What an awesome sight it was. I wish now that I could have been there.
His “I Have a Dream” speech not only brought tears to my eyes and elicited chills, it inspired me — as a young, black teen — to take up the baton and tackle the challenges he advocated by striving for freedom, equality and civil liberties while pushing for better race relations, educational opportunities and jobs.
As a product of Alexandria’s public housing, I knew that if I wanted a better quality-of-life for myself, my mother and family, I had to get the best education possible. This meant completing high school with the hope of going to college and landing a paying job — not to mention a career — that would make this dream a reality.
When T.C. Williams opened in 1965, I immediately became engaged, as a sophomore and student leader, in improving race relations between blacks and whites in our new school as well as in the community. After King’s assassination in April 1968, I had the honor of being a keynote speaker at my June 1968 graduation.
I reflected on King’s life, his famous speech and how far we had come as a nation. I also grappled with what his death and legacy meant to me — and the world — while making a prediction for the future.
Upon graduating from college in 1972 and returning to Alexandria to start my career as an accountant, I became fully engaged in the community, working to make a difference in everyone’s life, improving race relations, our education system and never forgetting how far we had come. And I continued dreaming about a better tomorrow.
Not only did I overcome poverty and become a homeowner, I launched a successful business career and became a community activist as well as a politician. For the past 10 years, I have served as the first African-American mayor of our great and historic city.
I am a big dreamer and honestly know that dreams can come true.
I imagine that if we all shared in King’s faith and his dreams, our city, nation and world would be a better place. Instead of wars, we would have peace and harmony, equality and justice for all, a better-educated society, and reduced poverty with full employment. Better yet, we could all say that we have been to the mountaintop — and what a beautiful view it is.
Like King, I dream for a White House and Congress that will put all politics and differences aside, end divisiveness and work together to make the right decisions to move our country forward in unity.
It has been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years since the “I Have a Dream” speech. Despite the many achievements, we cannot wait another second, minute, hour, day, week, month or year for common sense to prevail. There remains much more work to be done in the areas of race relations and human rights.
I have a dream. You have a dream. We all have a dream to make our city and this country a better place. It is time to act — while continuing to dream for love, respect, equality and prosperity for all.
The writer is the mayor of the City of Alexandria.
(Photo/The Library of Congress)