One of the most inspirational stories of the past year, for many, was the dedication in October of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
King’s message today is often so watered down that we forget that, far more than conciliator, he was a revolutionary who forced this nation to see hard truths about itself — many of which remain relevant today.
“In too many troubled neighborhoods across the county, the conditions of our poorest citizens appear little changed from what existed 50 year ago,” President Obama said at the dedication. “There are neighborhoods with underfunded schools and broken-down slums, inadequate health care...violence. Our work is not done.”
This is, in part, the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement and their many offspring that sprang up over the past four months: that it is unjust that one percent of the people in the nation hold such an inordinate amount of wealth. It’s not clear how they plan to rectify those inequities by sleeping on the ground and snarling traffic every now and then with a protest.
People who should generally be supportive are unsure how to help their cause. Among them is D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), 69, who sees himself as a champion of the underdog. Gray recently told The Post’s Tim Craig that the movement is known as much for tents in parks as its demands: “What is frustrating for me, and I think of my own causes, is, what is the desired outcome here? Where are we trying to get to?”
Many of us want to know the same thing.
There were many notable deaths this year, including historian and social critic Manning Marable, Smokin’ Joe Frazier and rapper Heavy D. But the one that stands out for me is Gil Scott-Heron , an old-school griot with a knack for searing clarity. He gave in to many of the ills, including drug addiction, that he sang about.
One of my favorites was “Winter in America,” a eulogy of sorts for an America that had gone the way of the buffalo. Here’s a quick eulogy to him: Thank you for telling brothers to ease up on the sisters. Thank you for reminding young rappers that they, too, have to take some responsibility for their words. Thank you for begging America’s pardon after the Richard Nixon pardon. And most of all, thank you for allowing us into your mind, and reminding us to not wait until we have it all together to make that phone call.
As usual, we had our share of scandal this year. The D.C. Council has been good for its share of nonsense. But hands down, for me, is the continuing sad saga surrounding former Prince George’s County executive Jack Johnson.
The county’s former top prosecutor, Johnson had made police corruption one of his top priorities. So he understood all the risks he was taking with his own freedom and image of the county many residents once dubbed Gorgeous Prince George’s.
At his sentencing this month, Johnson apologized and begged for mercy for taking as much as $1 million in bribes. He walked into court with a cane and said he suffers from depression and Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. “I’m sorry,” said Johnson, 62. “I ask the people of Prince George’s County to forgive me.”
That attempt at being contrite was in stark contrast to the Johnson captured in a surveillance video laughing and smiling as he pocketed $1,500 in cash from a developer. “If one of the prosecutors are able to bring somebody like me down, they brag their whole career, ‘I prosecuted Jack Johnson,’ ” he said in the video. “You got to be so careful.”
Yes, that would have been the thing to do, for sure.
And while most of the talk this year has been about people who don’t have — and are looking for work — Darren Carroll got his first steady job in three years making $24 an hour on the 11th Street Bridge Project. His wages could double in three years. And it made him feel good to be working and able to provide for his family again.
“Fact is, I couldn’t help anybody before — my family, nobody,” he said. “At least now I can say, ‘Here’s this little bit of money. Take care of yourself.”
Here’s hoping for more Darren Carrolls in 2012.
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