Go to myRCC
Help Center


More Languages:


More Languages:
  • News Center

Are We Keeping The Promise?

By Leila Gordon, Executive Director

RCC has celebrated Dr. King’s birthday since it was enacted as a federal holiday. As we consider how this organization has evolved over the nearly 45 years of its existence, the history of this holiday is a good illustration of how important it is to take a long view about progress.

Before it became a federal holiday, Dr. King’s birthday had been celebrated in Virginia on New Year’s Day. Few people knew of that relationship, however. Many people believed it was a way to give state officials “cover” for refusing to make it an official and separate state holiday. To add insult to injury, the state had a holiday in January celebrating two Confederate generals – Robert E. Lee and T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

Despite the 1983 federal declaration of the third Monday in January as a holiday honoring Dr. King, Virginia refused to change its approach until 2000. In that year, rather than honor Dr. King with a state holiday, it simply combined celebration of Dr. King’s birthday with the already established Lee-Jackson Day. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone. Remarkably, it took until 2020 for action to cease officially celebrating the two traitors along with Dr. King.

Here we are – just four years later – once again considering if we are keeping the promise of Dr. King’s life and getting closer to redeeming the tragedy of his martyrdom. In many ways, I think our recent history demonstrates that the nation’s founding principles are farther from lived truth than many think. We see how the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act have been gutted in the past decade. We see how voting itself has become significantly harder while simultaneously having its results undermined.

The wealth gap between white and Black Americans has stubbornly remained a chasm. Racial disparities in health, housing and educational attainment have similarly resisted both private action and government intervention to reduce or eradicate them. Affirmative Action – a minimal attempt to provide redress to historical discrimination – has been attacked and eliminated, long before achieving anything resembling parity for those affected. The sad reality for Black people in this country is that their skin color remains a primary social determinant for how they will grow up and experience every American community institution.

While RCC can’t cure these entrenched results of 400 years of American history and lived experience, we can be committed to equity as a foundational value for everything we do. This requires us to be forthright about acknowledging real history and present-day challenges. We must examine our systems, content and engagement with our community constantly aware of how bias might affect people and with determination to contribute to changing the unjust and stubborn realities we see all around us.

One day, an executive director here will write about a January holiday weekend that is filled with joy and that commemorates universal human rights as a lived reality for all Americans. Until then, and always, that depends on each of us doing all we can every day to make it so.


Share This Article: