By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
This week, we celebrated two important milestones: the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 50th anniversary year of his I Have A Dream speech, and, fittingly, the second Inauguration of our country’s first black President – and former Somerville resident – Barack Obama. For the second time, my wife and I were honored to accept an invitation by President Obama to attend the ceremonies in Washington, D.C. and, once again, I returned home with a renewed sense of hope and pride, fueled by the inspiring words of our Commander-in-Chief.
Under President Obama’s leadership during the last four years, our country weathered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and is now once again starting to rise. We saw the end of the War in Iraq and some of the nation’s bravest forces eliminated Osama Bin Laden. We also saw tremendous reform in health care, Veteran services, and other key issues that will open the doors to equality among all United States residents, including gay rights, which saw its first-ever mention in an inaugural address.
It is appropriate that our MLK Day celebrations here in Somerville this year carried the theme “Equality Through Access,” identifying and discussing ways in which we must continue to address socioeconomic and racial disparities, on the day that our President featured the same issues so prominently in his national address. That we can highlight our progress in these areas 50 years after Dr. King infamously called our nation to action in his Dream speech, and that we can do so through a leader who truly embodies Dr. King’s dream is inspiring in and of itself. However, that we still need to discuss those disparities points to the work yet to be done. As President Obama rightfully noted, “…our journey is not complete until all Americans can enjoy the opportunities of this nation.”
Any time discussions – or debates, as it may be – like these arise, they offer an opportunity to reflect on our own values here at home. Somerville is, after all, a true melting pot that reflects each and every demographic mentioned in the President’s address. We are a mix of blue-collar families and young professionals, of third- and fourth-generation Somervillians and recent immigrants, of gay, straight, black, white and everything in between. We are all hard-working Americans. And yet we do not all enjoy the same basic freedoms, rights, and equal access to services. Our journey, therefore, is incomplete.
The desire to create a community that is a great place to live, work, play and raise a family, and the hope of inspiring others to work together toward this common goal is our orienting value here in Somerville. Whether we achieve this by maintaining an open, transparent government or by creating arts and cultural celebrations that foster shared learning and understanding of our various ethnic backgrounds, we believe that an inclusive community is the key to a happy and productive community, and the foundation upon which to build equality.
Working together, our achievements are notable: our city is cleaner, safer, and more energy efficient; our public schools are thriving; our streets are more walkable, bikeable, and more accessible for all residents; our local economy is growing and our business base is expanding. We have made great strides in the last decade, but we have done so by working together, by capitalizing on our existing partnerships and by forging new ones in order to create an open and inclusive community for anyone who crosses our borders.
What we have gained in the half-century since Dr. King put a face to the fight for equality is increased respect and understanding. Our journey is far from over, but together, there has been great progress.
Nationally, access to health care and education is becoming an increasingly attainable goal for so many underserved Americans. Locally, we are working together toward shared goals such as increasing access to healthy foods and wellness resources. We know that collaboration is the key to success and, like President Obama, we believe that “America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together.”