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What Happened to the Dream?

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When I was growing up, I experienced first-hand what it was like to live in the midst of civil unrest. My grandparents owned a business in the midst of what became the center of the 1968 civil rights movement in Cincinnati, Ohio. In fact, the actual beginning of what became known as a very long, hot summer of civil unrest took place right in front of my eyes. I literally watched the looting, the violence and the destruction of what was once a thriving business community go up in flames. I had heard about similar events taking place in other parts of the country, but I never dreamed I would actually see it for myself. For what seemed like an eternity, I saw everything from young African American men fighting what they viewed as a battle to be heard and respected in their own country to the swift, harsh and often brutal response of a society that looked upon the civil unrest with hatred and fear. While the riots were taking place, we were literally imprisoned in my grandfather's shop. The national guard came in and barricaded the streets. They were angry and saw everyone as the enemy. They made no distinction between the people who lived and worked in the community and those who were rioting. We were frightened and helpless, and no one cared. Buildings were burning all around us, and we were choking from the smoke bellowing from the burning inferno. The buildings were burning so rapidly that my grandfather was in danger of losing his business because a large furniture store near us was burning out of control. In the midst of all of the violence and chaos, by the grace of God, we were able to escape through the back yard and find shelter with other family members. The events of that summer both frightened and motivated me. I was frightened by my first experience with violence and blind hatred, but I was motivated to do something about it. Eventually, I went on to attend the University of Michigan Law School and to become a fierce advocate for social and economic justice. Change is never easy, but it is often necessary. We are 50 years away from hearing Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream Speech", but we are still many years away from making that dream a reality.

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