Crowds in front of the Washington Monument during the “March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom”, August 28, 1963

In a 25-minute BBC Radio Ulster special for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, I joined a panel to analyze the significance of the gathering of more than 200,000 people — listening to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech — then and now.

The other panelists are mediator and conciliation specialist Sara Cook, theologian Hunter Livingstone Thompson, and author Mihir Bose.

Listen to Discussion from 37:10

I highlight how the March highlighted the “best” in what could be achieved for rights, justice, and opportunity for all — and how, from 1963 to 2023, we have always faced the “worst” in the backlash from those concerned about their political, economic, and media power.

Why is justice for everyone, why is equality for everyone, why is beyond judged the “content of our characters” rather than by the colors of our skins — why are these demands, rather than fundamental human rights?

There is a personal dimension to this: I was born in Birmingham, Alabama months before it became a symbol for the repression of marches for civil rights with beatings, attack dogs, and water cannons. My father and grandfather watched from the height of the Alabama Power building in the center of the city.

And I have lived in another country where my children have benefited from growing up in a multi-racial, multi-cultural community — but where racism and the denial of rights still can be found at the highest levels of government and society.

Dr King said in Memphis 55 years ago, “I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

We’re not at the mountaintop, but we’re trying to get there. It is that spirit that continues to give me hope, despite the disturbing lurch to the right among many of those in power who want to exploit the worst in us rather than bring out the best of us.