Mayor John Ostenburg: Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)–January 18, 2016.  Today, the nation remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of peace and justice. The road leading to this holiday was long and difficult, and so very many of the goals that Dr. King and his cohorts in the American Civil Rights Movement espoused remain far from being fully accomplished, especially here in the greater Chicago region. Daily the headlines announce more and more deaths occurring primarily within the minority community, some the result of unjust treatment by authority figures and others as the byproduct of gang activity that is born of poverty and despair. Suburban Chicago-area communities that once were havens of prosperity likewise are seeing — as a recent Brookings Institution study of poverty in suburbia has shown — increases in substandard housing, inadequate jobs, vast food deserts, and the lack of meaningful economic development. So, while we celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. King and his colleagues, we also must recognize how much work remains to be done.

This year, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s campaign to bring open housing to Chicago, and yet the city continues to be tagged as one of the most segregated metropolitan regions of the nation. That fact illustrates the need for the movement to remain alive. On July 10, 1966, as a young Roman Catholic seminarian, I attended — along with more than 35,000 others — Dr. King’s massive rally at Soldier Field and then marched with him as he went to Chicago City Hall to post his demands on its doors. Today, as I review those demands, I recognize that most have been met. As such, it would be myopic not to see that progress has been made in many regards. Yet, truth be told, many new areas of racially discriminatory behavior have risen to take over the spots formerly held by those that Dr. King addressed. A true honoring of Dr. King’s memory demands that we work as arduously as did he to see those new problems addressed as fully as were many of those from his days.

Additionally, today we recognize that intolerance has grown to embrace not only those viewed as “different” because of race, but also persons of certain religious beliefs, or of another gender or sexual orientation, or who speak non-English languages, and so forth. Furthermore, we see today leading political figures who unabashedly advance notions of intolerance as they seek to play on fears as a method for their own electoral advancement. I can only imagine what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say and do in opposition to such hateful behaviors. We should pray for his wisdom and strength as we continue the struggle against hatred, intolerance, and injustice in our society. May his memory be our inspiration.

John Ostenburg is the Mayor of Park Forest, IL