Lifting Lives: 2014 Multi-Cultural Day at the Denver Federal Center
In his January 1964 article published in the New York Amsterdam News, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that the “civil rights legislation now before Congress” was “born in the streets of Birmingham amid snarling dogs and the battering of fire hoses. It was fashioned in the jail cells of the South and by the marching feet in the North. It became the order of the day at the great March On Washington last summer” (King). In this characteristically poetic way, Dr. King traced the long, arduous, and tragically costly path that eventually led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2nd, 1964.
Fifty years later, it is our obligation to remember the great perseverance, sacrifice, and unbreakable faith of the many individuals whose united efforts culminated in the passage of this landmark legislation. It is also our responsibility to examine the progress made toward equal opportunity in the last half-decade and, most importantly, to reaffirm our commitment to continued endeavors for social justice.
Last Wednesday, the Department of the Interior (DOI) did just that at its 2014 Multi-Cultural Day at the Denver Federal Center. The event was centered on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act and featured speakers, artists, and nonprofits who promote social justice and civil rights. The ACLU of Colorado was invited to participate in the Exhibit Booth Show, which was an excellent opportunity to share the work we do in defense of Coloradoans’ civil rights with Federal Center employees. The vast majority of employees we spoke to were familiar with the ACLU, and many thanked us for our work. It was humbling and inspiring to receive the gratitude of people who regulate our national parks, lead energy commissions, and work for the Department of Education.
During a lull in booth activity, I attended a portion of the panel discussion on the Civil Rights Act and its impact. The panel consisted of professors and Department of Education employees who are involved in the study and remedy of contemporary civil rights issues. The moderator’s first question to the four panelists was: “In your opinion, what are the three most pressing civil rights issues of today?” There were several issues that multiple panelists agreed were the most critical; these included voting rights, mass incarceration and prisoners’ rights, the school-to-prison pipeline, inequities in education, and immigration reform. Unsurprisingly, these issues align with the ACLU’s current priorities. As Judith Browne Dianis elucidates in her article “Under Fire” in the Winter 2014 edition of Stand magazine, the ACLU has been at the forefront of many of the most significant civil rights victories since 1964 (Browne Dianis, 28-33). Fifty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the ACLU remains fervently dedicated to the protection and extension of individuals’ civil rights, and is committed to ameliorating the most pressing civil rights issues of today.
I left the DOI Multi-Cultural Day with a profound gratitude for the people (both past and present) who have tirelessly worked to empower, emancipate, and lift the lives of others. It is a great honor to work beside such dedicated guardians of others’ civil rights. And it is a true privilege to live in a country that passed the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago. As one panelist pointed out, progress toward social justice is never inevitable and rarely linear. But it is possible with the dedication, faith, and compassion of people like those who helped get the civil rights legislation into and through Congress. As we look toward the future, let us remember that we too are capable of producing such progress and that it is our responsibility to lift, rather than restrict, the lives of others.
Browne Dianis, Judith. “Under Fire.” Stand Winter 2014: 28-33. Print.
King, Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. “A Look to 1964.” New York Amsterdam News [New York] 1 Jan. 1964: The King Center. Web. 17 July 2014. <http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/look-1964>.