Why Martin and Malcolm Wouldn't Make Much of a Difference Today

'Can-Do' Spirit Wilts Into 'Can't Do'

It's debatable whether King would have had a "Dream" vision of the United States if he had grown up in a different time and risen to prominence in today's world. Arguably, the fiercest critics are not pessimists but are at heart optimists -- and have a belief and hope for what their world can be. That may be part of what fuels their criticism.

Still, some warn that the lack of great modern-day leaders is not just an African American problem. It also may illustrate the change in the heart of the nation following the assassinations of President Kennedy, Malcolm X, King and Robert F. Kennedy, and the failure of the Vietnam War. A nation of optimism wilted into a nation of frustration and broken promises -- and has yet to fully recover.

"Remember, this lack of great leaders is not just a problem in the African American community. It is a problem across the board," Naison said. "In many ways, Dr. King, John F. Kennedy, and even Malcolm X were products of a nation of optimism. Look at Hurricane Katrina. What happened to the can-do spirit? We used to be a nation of miracles, not one that could be paralyzed by a natural disaster. And we're still paralyzed. People are still stranded."

"Look at JFK. When he talked about optimism, it was believable," Naison continued. "But when President Bush says the same thing, it's almost comical. … We are hated around the world. They [other nations] hate us. They laugh at us."

The 1960s saw a loss of innocence and dynamic leadership that has left people looking for the next JFK, King and Malcolm X ever since. But we should remember one thing: One or two charismatic people can symbolize a movement. But rarely does one person single-handedly start a movement.

"People are always expecting one person to start a movement," Chapman said. "But Martin Luther King didn't start the civil rights movement. It was set in motion before he came into the picture. He was not bigger than the movement."

Undoubtedly, Malcolm X and King were revolutionaries who changed the world. But if they emerged today, they might be just revolutionaries in a changed world.

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