Every year on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, my thoughts invariably turn to dreams.
King's dream, society's dreams, my idealistic dreams.
The advent of President-elect Obama adds to the dreams. I spent Monday imagining how Obama's ascendency might inspire the young people who have been sidetracked by poor decisions and misguided values.
Perhaps Obama's historic victory will help them realize their dreams are attainable.
Perhaps Obama's success victory will instill a new hope in those who don't see themselves living past the age of 20.
Perhaps seeing someone in the White House who looks like them will lead African-American kids to focus more on education and morals, and less on material trappings.
Reality shocked me back into the present. It won't be that easy.
We rightfully celebrate Obama's inauguration with uncommon excitement — I can't remember this many public watch parties for Bush's inauguration — because his presidency represents an optimistic contrast against the grim reminders of our faltering economy.
We want a hero, as Adam Goodman said Monday when we appeared together Monday on Kathy Fountain's Your Turn on WTVT-Ch. 13.
We should rejoice over Obama's ascension to the highest office in the land because of what it says about how far we've come as a nation.
Obama, however, won't cure all the nation's ills. He's smart, thoughtful, inspiring.
But he's not magical.
His inauguration is both a milestone and a mile marker. We have more road to travel. When it comes to making a better path for the next generation, we can't solely look to the president, Congress or Wall Street. We have to look within.
Educator Lawrence Wesley delivered that message as the keynote speaker for the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs' Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Breakfast on Monday.
"I'm going to allow everybody in this room this morning to take the next 48 hours to breathe deep," said Wesley, an associate professor at Daytona Beach Community College. "But when (the inauguration) is over, roll your sleeves up. Enjoy the moment, but there is much work to do."
Everyone, Wesley stressed, must honor King's legacy. Noting the plight of the uninsured, the plague of poverty and the senselessness of black-on-black crime, Wesley invoked King and challenged the audience of 800 to help not because it's safe, popular or political, but because it's right.
"We must, now at this critical hour, ask the real question," Wesley said, his voice rising like a preacher.
"Don't pass the buck. No one can proxy for you on this one. You've got to make a stand. Go look in the mirror when you ask the question so you can see the response: 'What am I doing?' "
The challenge Wesley issued cannot easily be met because for too many of us, the answer is "I can't make a difference."
The hope and optimism offered by today's events will eventually clash with a fear and cynicism that's all too palpable in these difficult times.
But we have to try. We have to avoid the pitfalls of partisanship and the fallacy of finger-pointing.
One man can't lift us up, but one nation can.
That's all I'm saying.