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I, too, have a dream.

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.
COPYRIGHT 2001 For A Change
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Author:Webb, Robert
Publication:For A Change
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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