Calvin Butts, pastor of New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church and president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, delivered a sterling speech Monday at the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs' annual Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Breakfast.
Reflecting his belief in education and faith, Butts' address was both scholarly and theological. He quoted prophets, politicians, poets and even Stevie Wonder.
By the time he finished, Butts had blessed the diverse audience of more than 800 with pearls of wisdom for every race and ethnicity as he underscored the theme of "Remembering the Dream, Delivering the Promise."
The most lustrous of those pearls was a call for Tampa Bay residents to engage in the political process. Butts warned that the community must grow weary of "politicians who promise a lot and give nothing."
He pushed people to care not only about presidential races, but also every contest from city and county elections to state and congressional battles.
"If you believe in the dream, it doesn't matter whether you're black or white," Butts said. "What matters is that you join together and hold political leadership accountable."
Yet we live in a city where the African-American community is increasingly apathetic about local politics. Privately, political consultants are already saying the black vote doesn't matter unless it's a presidential race.
It's well-documented that the predominantly white enclaves of South Tampa play the biggest role in deciding Tampa elections, and it's naive to believe that doesn't determine which neighborhoods get the most attention from public officials.
If African-Americans in the pockets of east Tampa, West Tampa and Sulphur Springs don't get involved, we will go from politicians who promise a lot to politicians who promise nothing. If suburban African-Americans don't reach back and call for change in the inner city, it will never happen.
It's simply not enough to have singular black representatives on the City Council, the County Commission and the School Board. Accountability may begin with them, but it must extend to every elected official. And it can — through collaboration.
Go back to Butts' quote. Your race doesn't matter.
People in Hyde Park who believe in the dream must demand change in West Tampa.
The active participants of Seminole Heights must challenge officials to help the impoverished in east Tampa.
Everybody in New Tampa and Temple Terrace needs to ask for improvements in the university area, unless they believe it's a good idea to have the University of South Florida next to one of the region's most crime-ridden neighborhoods.
It's this universal approach that constitutes the dream. As Butts so eloquently noted, King simply articulated what God had been trying to say to the world for centuries when he stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and called for America to truly be the nation where all men are created equal.
"It is not a dream that's particular to any racial group," Butts said. "It is not a dream that's particular to any religious group; it is not a dream that's particular to any ethnic group."
We hear so much about "Get Out the Vote," but in 2014, it needs to be get out the newspaper, get out the computer, get informed and — most importantly — get together. Turn the dream on.
That's all I'm saying.