The words Martin Luther King Jr. spoke during his I Have a Dream speech 50 years ago are ones to live by for lawyer and motivational speaker Lesra Martin.
King spoke of freedom and equality arising from a land of hatred and slavery, which is a vision that Martin, who was born the same year as King’s historic oratory, shares.
“I’ve lived my life with the message that Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream had as guiding principles for my daughters,” Martin said Wednesday. “My daughters currently have friends from all sorts of races and cultures, even here in Kamloops.”
Martin not only upholds King’s principles when it comes to raising his two daughters, but also in his day-to-day life as a black man in Kamloops, he said.
Martin makes an effort to get along with everybody.
“I certainly don’t judge a person by their race or culture, but instead by the contents of their character, which is exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking about so many years ago,” he said.
“It has significantly impacted my philosophy about life.”
Martin was propelled to fame thanks to the 1999 Denzel Washington film The Hurricane. The movie described how he and a group of people he lived with in Toronto became involved in the release of Rubin Carter in 1985 after the former boxer served 20 years in prison for murder.
His involvement began after he read Carter's autobiography The Sixteenth Round, which prompted Martin to write to Carter in prison.
The milestone of King’s speech is also significant. Martin said 50 years is a common gauge in politics.
“We’ll get there in 50 years. People throw that out a lot,” he said. “It’ll take another 50 years to get there.”
He said the United States and Canada have made huge strides during the last five decade. In 1963, there was a belief the U.S. wouldn’t see a black president or woman president for “another 50 years.”
Even when Barack Obama ran for president, the consensus among many was the nation wouldn’t have a black president anytime soon, said Martin.
Obama was, of course, elected president in 2008 and took office in 2009.
Despite the advancements, North America still struggles with race relations and cannot remain complacent. Martin said the recent trial of George Zimmerman for fatally shooting unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin is a prime example of this.
“Isn’t it bizarre that we still struggle with race relations when the United States has a black president?” asked Martin.
Canada’s melting pot mentality means civil rights haven’t had to travel the same hard road as the U.S., said Paul Lagace, executive director of the Kamloops Immigrant Services Society. This is something Canadians can be proud of.
“That means the people feel welcomed. They feel already like they are a part of the community,” said Lagace.
However, Section 67 of the Canada Human Rights Act still prevents First Nations from making a human rights complaints, he said. What’s worse is the federal government and Canadian Assembly of First Nations is aware of this and allows it continue.
Lagace said he intends to see Section 67 amended.