I took the day off and spent it at my father-in-law’s house, watching all the excitement in Washington D.C.

I was still thinking about how emotional I felt watching Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the drive over the bridge. My wife hadn’t been there when King’s speech aired, so I pulled it up (iPhone is amazing) and read it to her as she was driving. Reading the text aloud, once more underlined for me the power of the words. There were times that I had to pause in order to get the words out because I was so choked up.

I was once again taken by the fact that Dr. King could be so optimistic with all the rage and oppression surrounding him. Listening to our new President speak, I could clearly hear the determined optimism in his voice and words. I was swept up by the historic moment, and excited about the turning away from the culture of fear toward one of hope.

It is far too easy to look at all of the problems of the world, listen to the news, and give in to the fear of all things that could happen. Terrorists around every corner, economy collapsing, no work anywhere, global warming, and the USA on the verge of collapse. But for me, every problem appears more as something to be solved, every challenge is an opportunity for growth that can be solved by working together.

The words of Barack Hussein Obama II in his inaguaral address are filled with that, and I’m excited by the way he is using the bully pulpit already to rally us to service. This is a seminal event: the promise made to every small child, that they can work hard and grow to become President of the United States has moved closer to reality. Martin Luther King’s dream of a nation where children will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, is just a little more real.

I was moved in many places by Barack’s speech. Calling us back to the traditions of our founding fathers in continuing the great social experiment that is the United States. When he said that America was ready to lead, I just wanted to hear him say “follow me”.

When he spoke to the troubled nations of the world, challenging the despots, offering “that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”, I was again deeply moved. By speaking to our part in the world, that we could not be apart from it, he seemed to me to be reminding us that service goes beyond our nation. We can’t retreat inside our borders, nor follow some crusade to get every nation to be like ours.

At the end of the day, Barack and Michelle Obama crossed the threshold of the White House, across steps that were built by slaves, to lead our country in it’s ever progressing quest toward protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. One day before the biggest inauguration since George Washington, and only 46 years since the famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Unlike Steve Martin, I was not born a poor black child. I was however very lucky to be raised without the iron of racial hatred and prejudice that so many people have to overcome thanks in part to being raised in parts of middle America where discrimination was more hidden, and also thanks to having parents who understood that this hatred was wrong.

Perhaps because of how I grew up, I had a leg up on not developing predjudices. I know that anthropologically we generalize things: it’s a survival trait from before we even had civilizations. When you see a bear attack somebody, you generalize that all bears are dangerous.

So for me, living in the comfort of middle America, my generalizations likely came from being exposed to people who were also enlightened middle class people. My experiences with people my parents socialized with were always generally positive, which probably means I generalized all people that way. I think this is one of the more insidious aspects of prejudice is that people will respond to the way they are treated. Somebody raised to think that a certain race is not to be trusted, will look for things to support that idea, and subconsciously encourage that behavior.

When we first moved to Wrangell (a small town and island in the south eastern portion of Alaska), I think I had my first real exposure to the shame of America. One of my friends at school was a native American (he was of the Tlinget tribe). When we went from one grade to the next (can’t remember exactly which grade), they told us that all of our “Indian” friends would be sent to the Indian school.

It was confusing and disturbing, and I couldn’t understand why it was happening.  All I knew was there was some arbitrary rule that said if you’re part of this tribe, you can’t go to the same school with the other kids.

I lived in Alaska from the time I was in third grade until I was in sixth grade (1967 until 1970) when my Dad got a job for (the now infamous) Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. We made the trek across Canada on the Candian National Railway, down the coast to Washington, D.C. and  to our new home in Alexandria Virginia (pronounced Vuh-gin-yuh after you’ve lived there).

When we got to Washington D.C., we wanted to drive through and see the capitol and all the sites. I remember it was evening, and we drove into the city, but at some point we came to some barricades. We were told it wasn’t safe to go into the city and were turned around to go out of the city.  Later we watched the news to hear that there were “race riots” going on (I’m thinking now that it must have been related to the Jackson State killings).

We moved to Alexandria, Va. which was for the most part a suburb of the seats of power. You could take a bus to Washington D.C. (which I think my Dad did every day) and it was about as lily white a place as I had ever lived. I was in junior high by now, and the middle school I went to did not have a diverse population (out of a couple hundred kids, there were two black kids, one indigenous American). Most of the kids at this school were from fairly affluent families, and from what I could see there wasn’t any obvious prejudice there.

As I finished with middle school, and was preparing for high school, some of my friends started talking about how the “bad” kids would be getting bussed to the high school next year. I didn’t know why, or who these “bad” kids might be, but I was a little worried.

The first day of school arrived, and to my horror and surprise, I saw first hand who the “bad” kids really were. I saw kids from my old school, yelling and throwing things at the buses that were arriving. The high school was one of the first to integrate, and the so called “bad” kids they had been talking about, were the black kids from the ghetto. I was horrified to learn that my friends had been afraid of these kids because of the color of their skin.

This was a culture shock: I went from a middle school that was 100% upper middle class, to a high school that was suddenly 70% low income kids. Here were kids who thought that getting a job as a garbage man was the equivalent of being President. I was from a background where a college education was assumed to be part of the plan, they were from a place where staying in school was something you had to do, and only until you could find a job. There were language differences too: the first time somebody asked me to borrow a “prunsel”, I had no idea what it was (they were asking for a pencil).

So today, on the eve of the amazing accomplishment of the inauguration of Barack Obama, I am truly grateful (and impatient) for the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke so eloquently about. It’s still a dream, but with our first non-white president, we have a little more proof that all things are possible.

Can we realize the dream (and overcome the insidious nature of hateful prejudice) ?

Yes we can !