Volume 14 Number 1
I, Too, Have a Dream
01 February 2001

We journalists are often characterized as rude, invaders of privacy, biased and even dishonest. But for most journalists, most of the time, this is inaccurate. Most simply try to do a good job. We often make mistakes, though we're not always willing to admit or correct them even as we focus on the errors of others, especially politicians.

So when as a young journalist I read about Moral Re-Armament, I was delighted that some group was trying to encourage politicians to be more honest and statesmanlike. It didn't occur to me that I might also need that encouragement. That was to change when, a few years later, I attended an MRA meeting at Mackinac Island, Michigan. The year before, in Chicago, I'd covered my first national presidential-nominating convention, the highlight of my career to that point. But what I found--and was to write about--at Mackinac clearly topped that experience.

There I found people of about every race, colour and creed and from many countries who had discovered something new, uniting and thus revolutionary. It was a new world in microcosm. As a child of the Deep South, born and reared in Mississippi, I had its traditional, segregationist views on race. It hadn't bothered me that schools, restrooms, water fountains and neighbourhoods were segregated, that African-Americans were to stay in 'their place'. The 'Southern way of life' was deeply rooted in me. At the time, as associate editor of the State Times in Jackson, Mississippi's state capital, I was the faithful conduit through editorials and signed columns of the region's traditional white views on race.

But at Mackinac I found a purpose that was to change me radically. On a food-serving shift there, for example, I worked with a young black fellow from Detroit. We swiftly became friends. Then one afternoon I saw an MRA film, Freedom--written by Africans about a mythical African country moving from colonial to black majority rule--that was to drive a stake into my racist heart. As the film ended, I knew I had to apologize to the first black man I saw coming out of that theatre for the way we in the South had treated his race. So I apologized to an African of middle age, one whose face bespoke deep wisdom. I will never forget his response. 'After the apology, what?' I've been trying to answer that question ever since.

Part of the answer came as I listened to my inner voice and faced the absolute moral standards of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love to record the wrongs I'd committed. I came up with a soul-searing list and began to make restitution as best I could. For example, I wrote my high school principal about cheating as a student. That brought an invitation, which I accepted, to address a student assembly at my old school. After a glowing introduction by the school superintendent, I stood up and said, 'I'm here because I cheated in high school.' Then I told them about what I'd found. The principal said afterwards, 'You came at the right time. We were about to have examinations.'

I also had to reimburse the New Orleans newspaper for which I'd worked for padding my expense account. The paper donated the funds to MRA. I apologized to an old editor I'd maligned in print, resulting in a warm and memorable evening with him. And I made restitution to another publisher for misusing his photo darkroom. One of my toughest acts was to confess to a US attorney deeds for which I thought he might prosecute. Thankfully, he didn't. Wonderfully, each act of restitution brought an inner liberation and indescribable joy.

As you might imagine, this experience of change led to a radical new approach to my work and life. I began a daily habit of listening for direction to my inner voice and writing down the thoughts that came. I began to reach out to African-Americans and to give readers the vision of an America modelling how people of every race and background could work together for the good of all. I wrote to a fellow Southerner, Martin Luther King Jr, about my Mackinac experience, and received a warm reply. Later I was to cover for The Cincinnati Enquirer the 1963 March on Washington, where he gave his 'I have a dream' speech. I share Dr King's dream for a nation where character, not colour, is what counts. Journalists with that vision can help mightily to architect the hate-free, greed-free, fear-free society for which we all long.

Robert Webb is a retired journalist living in Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

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