On Jan. 16, a bipartisan and multi-racial group of political leaders led by Gov. Ralph Northam announced their support for a resolution to make 2019 the Year of Reconciliation and Civility in Virginia.

Democratic Gov. Northam was joined by former Gov. Bob McDonnell and House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, Republicans.

“It is at this moment in time we truly have an opportunity to make a paradigm shift and live up to the true creed of our nation and ensure equal justice for all,” said Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond,  who is sponsoring the Joint Resolution on Reconciliation in the House of Delegates, “to promote a more just and civil society in America.”

The resolution cites Virginians for Reconciliation,  which is planning to host a series of events across the commonwealth “to help participants understand and accept the hard truths that exist in black and white America, with the goal of establishing a new dynamic where people of different races will have a much healthier dialogue and work more closely together to advance the common good.”

Virginians have the opportunity to reflect on just what racial reconciliation means 400 years after the first enslaved African-Americans were brought to our shores as chattel, their skin color used as an excuse to deprive them of their basic dignity and humanity.

Although the nation fought a bloody Civil War over slavery, and laws enshrining segregation and discrimination have long since been repealed, the deep wounds from that ugly chapter of American history have still not healed.

And as our nation becomes politically Balkanized, it might seem that true racial reconciliation is an unattainable goal.

In his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King’s view of racial reconciliation was a nation in which his children “would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The great civil rights leader offered a vision of the still-segregated South being “transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice,” pointing out that reconciliation is always a two-way street.

White people have to realize that “their destiny is tied up with our destiny … and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone,” King said. At the same time, he admonished his black followers “not [to] seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

In his book of sermons, “Strength to Love,” the fiery Baptist preacher wrote: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

After 400 years, racial reconciliation will not happen overnight. But it’s possible to have an honest and civil dialogue about slavery’s harsh legacy on the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike.

Love of one’s neighbor cannot be mandated; it must come from the heart.

But during this Year of Reconciliation, all Virginians can and should make a real effort to finally make Dr. King’s dream of brotherhood a reality.

Excerpted from The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star.

Editor's note: Editorials shared from other newspapers are offered in an effort to disseminate additional opinion and information.

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