Minimum Wage, Living Wage and other Great Misconceptions

I work for minimum wage.

Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  In fact, I submit that pretty much everybody who receives a paycheck from an employer is working for minimum wage… everybody…, including me, and all of you.  Most employers generally pay employees the minimum amount of money they need to pay in order to get the desired work out of the employee.  For a school teacher that might be $60,000 per year (according to the NEA, in 2012 the average for a Michigan public school teacher was $61,560).  For a heart surgeon it might be $600,000.  For a high school senior working part time in fast food it might be $10/hr.

If someone will successfully perform their job for $10/hr, there’s no reason to pay them $11/hr.  It’s no different than a trip to the grocery store.  The price tag shows a price, which is the minimum amount the store will take for that item.  We don’t step up to the cash register and pay more than the marked price do we?  No, we pay the minimum.  With labor, the employee has a minimum price for their time and effort, and thus the employer pays that price in the form of a wage – a minimum wage.   If the employee’s minimum price is not met, one of two things happens; either the employer raises their minimum offer, or the two go their separate ways.

Minimum Wage Law

Most people do not realize that the concept of mandated Minimum Wage has been around for at least 600 years, probably more.  European serfs generally worked without pay in exchange for a place to live and a field in which to grow food.  A common concern was should they also be given a single coin each day.  Is it really a surprise that someone came up with an idea in the 1400’s and we’ve been arguing about it ever since?  Six hundred years later it remains an issue of HUGE contention within our Society, with countless reasons being argued by both sides of the issue.  Sadly, it seems that most arguments for either raising OR lowering the mandated Minimum Wage usually have everything to do with politics, and absolutely NOTHING to do with appropriate exchange of value.  This too, is of no surprise.

Here in the US, mandated Minimum Wage is such a contentious issue because it’s a Socialist premise trying to fit into a free market Capitalist system.  Minimum Wage is set by a combination of Local, State and Federal laws, in that order of hierarchy.  Per the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (really, 1938!), the current Federally-mandated Minimum Wage (set in 2009) is $7.25 per hour.  In my opinion, this is $7.25 too high.  The REAL minimum wage in a free market Capitalist system is $0.00, just as the allowable (maximum) wage is limitless.  All societies must make a choice:  Do the citizens want protection or opportunity?  With respect to earnings you can’t have both, at least not for very long.  And by the way, it seems unlikely that any in-depth review of Socialist societies during the past century would conclude that above all else, all the citizens were “protected.”  The most protected classes of people in virtually every Socialist society are either members of the Government, or those that really do not want to work, but I repeat myself.

On the surface, the notion of a Federally-mandated Minimum Wage might seem sensible, even noble.  However, in reality it is patently absurd, for the US is far too large and economically diverse for this to make any sense at all.  How can one say a Minimum Wage is valid when it’s the same for Mancelona and Manhattan, Bellaire and Bel Air, Atlanta MI and Atlanta GA?  The difference in the cost of living between even just these pairings should be clear indication that a Federal Minimum Wage is completely economically irrational.

In addition, the fact that Minimum Wage is a premise based upon what an employee is ENTITLED TO from their employer, while completely ignoring the work the employee is RESPONSIBLE to perform for the employer creates all kinds of problems related to fairness, motivation, and even morality.  How can a standard of specific tangible reward regardless of contribution be justified, especially when the reward comes at expense of someone else?   Simply put, it cannot.

Living Wage

Regardless of how many times these two phrases are spoken in the same sentence, or viewed together on the same protest sign, Minimum Wage and Living Wage are two entirely different and separate things.  The premise of Living Wage is determined by a myriad of factors, none of which can, much less should be solved by mandated Minimum Wage.

Living Wage is also a very contentious issue because beyond subsistence, living wage is ENTIRELY determined by CHOICES made by the individual, such as where one chooses to live, how many children one chooses to have and when one chooses to have them, what kind of car one chooses to drive, how much education one chooses to get, which smart phone and plasma TV one chooses to buy, etc.  The concept of what constitutes one’s basic needs is entirely, individually fluid, and is therefore the responsibility of the individual to meet, and NOT the responsibility of the taxpayer or employer to subsidize.

For example, I happen to think that my earnings are MY problem to solve.  That’s sort of the nature of the beast isn’t it?  Which of any individual’s given problems should be solved by whom?  At numerous points throughout my life I earned less than what was needed to “live” the life I desired.  So I took it upon myself to increase my relative value in the market.  I did things like accepting a lesser wage in order to work to gain experience, and returning to school to increase my knowledge through additional education.  I thought it inappropriate to ask my fellow citizens (taxpayers) to increase my earnings by passing a law that mandated I be paid more, regardless of the value of my work.

Many advocates of raising the Federally-mandated Minimum Wage insist that it’s needed in order to increase Minimum Wage earners’ purchasing power.  Further, these advocates often insist that employers will easily afford the additional payroll expense by simply raising prices of the goods and services they provide, thus taking in more revenue.  This idea fails to recognize even the most fundamental principles of Basic Economics.  “Just raise prices!” actually punishes the very people that mandated Minimum Wage professes to help.  If all companies raise their prices to fund higher wages, the Minimum Wage earner now needs even more money in order to buy that which used to cost less, thus negating the value of the wage increase.

Wrap It Up David, My Brain is Starting To Hurt

Private employers need to compete in the open market for quality employees, and thus pay the going market-driven wages.  Employees need to take responsibility for providing value for their employer that is congruent to the wages they demand.  Private employers need the freedom to hire whomever they wish, and employees need the freedom to work wherever they are qualified to work.  Each of those “freedoms” typically comes with a broad range of costs, and everyone involved must accept those costs.  Many of our societal issues are the result of an unwillingness to bear the inherent costs of our numerous freedoms.  Minimum Wage is no different.

The entire notion of mandated Minimum Wage is incredibly complex, as is the determination of Living Wage.  Economics, societal mores, individual responsibility, political platform, Constitutional law, and acceptable behavior are only a short list of the things that play a crucial role in these issues.  Therefore, it is of no surprise that this cannot be effectively addressed by simply deciding that even though Minimum Wage today is X, going forward it will be Y.  It’s just not that simple, or that easy.

So once again, I work for “minimum” wage, and I always have.  However, I also took responsibility for enhancing my knowledge, skills and willingness to work in such a way that the value that I provide my employer both motivates and enables my employer to pay me considerably more than what the Government mandates that I be paid.  Given the individual economic and lifestyle choices I’ve made, and continue to make on a daily basis, the wage I earn constitutes a “living” wage for me.  I do not need, much less desire, the government to be anymore involved in this financial relationship than they already are, in the form of Withholding Taxes.  Taxes that are used for, among other things, the giving of money to people who staunchly REFUSE to make responsible economic, lifestyle and employment decisions.

And we wonder why the number of people receiving taxpayer-funded financial subsidies and entitlements continues to grow…

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Name Calling in Politics, and Football

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I have a significant number of friends and acquaintances that ascribe to a political ideology that differs from mine.  We discuss, debate, sometimes argue, and do actually on occasion learn from each other.  I also have a number of friends (and family) who wear a lot of maize and blue, while I wear green and white.  We too debate, tease, and on occasion gloat with respect to our respective football team’s athletic endeavors.  What we do NOT do is denigrate each other, much less call each other despicable names.  Sadly, respectful discourse does not seem to be terribly popular across America today.

Being a reasonable guy trying to gain understanding, I simply have to ask a question:  Does anyone really think that destroying property, insulting fellow Americans, obstructing public event participation, and refusing to accept Constitutionally-defined Presidential electoral results are appropriate and effective means by which to persuade others to change their team loyalty?

To those that think it is, I believe you are wrong, and your beliefs and methods will continue to leave you in your present situation, that being that in all of the political/governmental areas that matter, you are losing the game.  Yes, your team racked up more total yards of offense (the popular vote), but you failed to score enough touchdowns (winning states).  Your team ESPECIALLY failed to score touchdowns from inside the Red Zone (MI, OH, PA, WI).

In addition, what’s with all of the vitriolic name-calling?  I’ve read that there are 3,144 counties in the USA.  Virtually every major news source agrees that President Donald Trump won a little over 2,600, and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won about 490, resulting in the final State tally of 30 vs 20.  What in the world gives you right to label ALL of those who voted differently than you as stupid, hateful, sexist, bigoted and racist (just to list a few)?

How is it that you are SO much more intelligent, compassionate, and rational than nearly 63 million of your fellow citizens?  Is this really the way we want Americans (football fans or not) to demonstrate tolerance, intellect, insight, understanding, and knowledge of the true nature of the culture in which we live today?  And by the way, all the intellect, insight, understanding, and knowledge in the world doesn’t mean a thing if nothing is actually accomplished for the greater good.

To that, I’m not impressed by political strategy, game plan, what plays are called, or even total yards.  I’m more interested in positive outcomes, successful results…, touchdowns!  And I really don’t even care which team within the House, Senate or Executive Office has the ball, as long as AMERICAN touchdowns are being scored.  Unfortunately, today in America it seems that Democrats are completely offended by Republican-scored touchdowns, even when liberal, or working class, or inner-city constituents benefit.

One final thought: Lately it seems that the ONLY way to be sure that you don’t OFFEND anyone, is to NEVER take a stand on anything.  Two of our fellow Americans have been VERY politically outspoken over the past several months, offering up all manner of opinion and solutions.  At the risk of once again being vilified by many, including members of my own family, I am going to take a stand: I really do NOT believe that America would be a better place for all under the “guidance” of Rosie O’Donnell and/or Snoop Dogg.

If, because of my stance you find me offensive, I’ll respond with the simple, yet poignant words of Shane Falco: “Yeah.  Yeah, I can live with that.”

An Open Letter to All of the Traumatized Clinton-Democrat College Students

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Dear Clinton-Democrat College Students,

For the past 18 months, you enthusiastically proclaimed you were going to put an end to racism, sexism, bigotry, income inequality, animal cruelty, student debt, and poverty.  You were going to “heal” the climate and save the planet.  You were going to open America to all who simply wanted a better life, and enhance our country with inclusiveness, tolerance, and diversity.  You were going to give high-paying jobs, quality healthcare and free college educations to everyone.  You trumpeted your individual and collective strength, your commitment to your mission, your readiness to rise up and change the world!!!

Right up until about 3am on November 9th

Since then we have seen from you pretty much one thing, and that is just how incredibly FRAIL you are.  You need puppies, and crayons, and Play-Doh, and safe rooms to protect you from further “triggers” and micro-aggressions.  You need counselors, and private time, and unconditional empathy in order to cope with your collective fear and unprecedented disappointment.  You also seem to need public forums, and targets at whom to direct your outrage.  You don’t have the energy to attend class, much less take exams, but you do have the energy to yell in the face of anyone with whom you disagree, to attack police officers, and destroy public and private property.  One after another you seek out any microphone and camera in order to tell the world how you are sick to your stomach, unaccepting of reality, unable to sleep and absolutely afraid.  Aren’t you even the least bit embarrassed by all of this?  Weakened and afraid?  Come on.

Life is hard.  Period.  Successful, effective, independent and rewarding life is even harder.  And by the way, this is still, more than any other country in the world, the Land of Opportunity.  It was never supposed to be the Land of Entitlement, much less the Land of I Always Get My Way, especially if I threaten to yell a lot on social or mainstream media.

Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen… grow up.  Understand the disparity between simply making a commotion, and actually making a difference.  Show America you are capable of being more than just victims.  Between the ages of 19 and 27, I “suffered” through three Presidential elections, standing on the losing side of every one.  In two of those elections our generations’ chosen candidates got CREAMED!!, the race being over before the 11 o’clock news.  We watched it, and bitched about it, and were totally bummed out.  We swore a little bit, and a few might have even hit the bottle or the bong.  And then the next day we got up and went to class and back to work, hoping for better in four years.  We disagreed with the opposition’s platform just as strongly as you do, but we weren’t afraid, much less incapacitated because we lost.  We believed we were strong enough and smart enough to persevere through whatever lay ahead, and together, we survived and even prospered despite our then-perceived impending doom.

So…, IF you are so damn right, and concerned, and noble, and smart, then stand up and get busy promoting your platform in a manner that at least garners some measure of respect, and maybe even acceptance.  Be confident, even courageous!  With integrity and civility, convince the majority of the electorate that your way is best for all, not just for you.  And if you encounter resistance, then either improve the quality and delivery of your message, or move on.

One final note: it’s just my opinion, but I think you are much more likely to get others to give your platform serious, respectful consideration if don’t spend so much time and energy calling them racist, sexist, hateful, bigoted, radical, uncaring, clueless, homophobic, environmentally irresponsible, heartless, fascist, privileged, and/or deplorable.  Let’s just call each other “Americans,” better yet… Fellow Americans.  And if you are not comfortable with that characterization, then perhaps you should take it upon yourself to leave the USA and go to school elsewhere.  Unless of course, you are afraid…

Veteran’s Day

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Veteran’s Day…

A day to show respect and gratitude, a day to demonstrate genuine appreciation.  However, before we say thank you, we should take a few minutes to truly contemplate the meaning of the day, and the measure of our gratitude for those for whom the day is named.  Sadly, and with no intended disrespect, we’ve gotten pretty comfortable throwing around the word “Hero.”  We often label the unusual or exemplary actions of those in uniform as heroic.  Unfortunately, more often than not, the uniform we’re focused on is emblazoned with a number on the front and back, rather than an American flag on the shoulder or over the breast pocket.  We need to re-think that.  The person who wears the uniform with the flag puts on that uniform and swears an oath to risk the life they have to protect the life that we have.  THAT’s a Hero! They take the risk, we reap the reward.

“Semper Fidelis”                             “Semper Paratus”

Though politicians and newscasters seem compelled to constantly make judgments (usually after the fact) as to whether the risk is worth it or not, the person in uniform does not have that luxury.  In fact, they often have very few luxuries, because committing one’s time in uniform to honor, duty and sacrifice leaves little, if any room for luxury.

“This We’ll Defend”                      “Non Sibi Sed Patriae”

We all have our favorite “teams,” and even favorite uniforms and jerseys.  Let’s remember that the praiseworthy individuals for whom Veteran’s Day is named really are OUR team, and therefore it is for them that we should cheer the loudest.  And not just on this single day, because for them, every day they are in uniform is potentially a BIG game.

“Aim High…Fly, Fight, Win”          “Always Ready, Always There”

Though the calendar says November 11 is Veteran’s Day, I say that’s not enough.  I think we should consider making it OUR duty to take the things we associate with Veteran’s Day (like recognition, respect and gratitude) and be on the lookout every day for opportunities to demonstrate those attributes for the benefit of the men and women of the United States Armed Services, past and present.  They are our Team, and we owe it to them to be committed, supportive and grateful fans.

Finally – November 8, 2016

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Today we vote, FINALLY!  Yet truth be told, I’m not really looking forward to going to the voting booth.

If we’re to believe at least some of the “news” reports, for the first time in our adult lives, more Americans will be voting NOT for someone (and selecting their opponent by default), than voting FOR someone, because they genuinely believe that candidate will do a commendable job. This is the America we’ve collectively built? It’s as if I have to choose between two distasteful meals, neither of which I like, and, in fact, either one of which is likely to make me ill.

And yet, I have to eat…

If the past two years of political campaigns have taught us anything, it is that we must do better than this.  As long as we continue to act as though “my side has ALL of the right answers, and your side has NO right answers,” we will only prolong and increase our divisiveness, and subsequently fail to be an exemplary Representative Republic. If We the People of varied heritage and ideology are to coexist and thrive, then we must remain open to the possibility of learning from each other for our mutual benefit. Look at it this way, though the Patriots are presently owning the AFC at 7-1, even the hapless 0-9 Cleveland Browns have scored 19 touchdowns, so even the Browns must know at least something of value :).

Finally, as I gather my thoughts in order to cast a sensible vote, I will try to focus on the important things that shape my beliefs and hopes, those substantive things about which I genuinely care:

I care more about what a soldier says than what a celebrity says.
I care more about what happens at the border than what is said on a bus.
I care more about the economy than emails.
I care more about solutions than blame.
I care more about gender-neutral Boardrooms than gender-neutral bathrooms.
I care more about a raised Flag than a raised fist.
I care more about social maturity than social media.
I care more about integrity than victory.
I care more about children’s laughter than childish demands.
I care more about opportunities than entitlements.
I care more about Patriotism than politics.
I care more about character than color.
I care more about who is effective than who is offensive.

And I care more about the United States of America past present and future than any and every other country in the world. This is OUR HOME, me and you, those with whom I agree and those with whom I disagree. Let’s come together, figure this out, and get to work. It really is up to US.

The REAL Student Loan Debt Crisis

You read it here first: The student loan debt problem is NOT what you think it is.  Wait, check that, there’s some pretty smart people who read The 5×5.  Ok, the student loan debt problem is NOT what you are being told it is.  It is in fact, much worse!

I read an article today filled with misplaced sympathy, false tragedy, and more hand-wringing, nail-biting and genuine worry than the waiting room of the Free Clinic the week after Spring Break.  Politicians on all levels are getting involved, including the Presidential candidates.  The message being spread loud and clear is that one of the most pressing domestic issues facing the USA today is student loan debt, and more needs to be done to save these poor, exploited victims of modern predatory Capitalism.

Seriously?

Just for the heck of it, let’s consider these FACTS:

Like ALL other LOANS (mortgages, car loans, etc.), the terms of all student loans are clearly spelled out PRIOR to acceptance.  BEFORE they sign, it is the lendee’s responsibility to determine whether they will be able to repay the loan according to the expressed terms.  What is NEVER explicitly expressed in any of the terms, either from the lender or the educational institution, is that the borrower will graduate to a “high-paying” job that will make it easy, convenient and entirely painless for borrower to repay the money that the borrower asked to borrow.

Given these facts, can someone please explain to me how these individuals are being victimized or exploited?  They knew the deal going in, and when the time comes to start paying back, suddenly it’s just not fair????  Since when?

  • Did the student ask for the money? – YES
  • Was anyone forced to take the money against their free will? Were they somehow conscripted into borrowing? – NO, and NO
  • Are they being asked to pay back money they did not receive? – NO
  • Are the interest rates even close to being that of a credit card? – NO
  • Are the interest rates at, or even below market rates for unsecured loans at the time the money was borrowed? – Yes
  • Is the lender entitled to have THEIR MONEY returned to them under the terms of the agreement explicitly expressed prior to any money changing hands? – YES

So I ask again, where is the injustice?

I had student loans.  I could not have attended college without them, and I did not graduate to a “high-paying” job (whatever THAT means).  In fact, I was unable to find work in my chosen area of study, and ended up working in entirely different fields, changing careers now 5+ times.  Regardless, it was still my responsibility to pay the loans back (as promised), and it took me about 20 years to do that.  Ironically, my final payment was made right about the time MY children were entering college.  Yes, college now costs more, a LOT more.  As a result, WE now have loans (Parent loans and Student loans) to repay, which we are doing.  But again, like me, my children could not have attended college without them.  We each did what we needed to do in order to embark upon the path of our choosing.

There is indeed a student loan crisis, and that crisis is this:  There is a growing segment of our society that thinks they should be able to forsake their responsibilities the moment any aspect of a given situation starts to go against their liking.  What ever happened to that very simple premise, so simple that it is routinely invoked by toddlers, wide-eyed and disappointed, pleading… “But you PROMISED?!?!”

The REAL crisis is an amalgamation of labor law, government regulation, tax code, trade agreements, immigration enforcement, foreign policy, political ideology, and public perception.  The only reason student loans get dragged into this mix is because it’s a lot easier to show a sympathetic public the sad faces of poor, fearful, financially-strapped former students.  Note the use of the word “former.”  Why are we not seeing pictures of, or hearing from current students in the midst of enjoying their higher education experience?  For the same reason we don’t hear people bitching during the middle of a party.  The bitching starts when the party is over and one has somehow become obligated to stick around and help clean up the mess.  They would have much rather foreseen the future an hour earlier: “Thanks for the great time, but I gotta go!”

Like former students with acquired debt, and entry-level workers who do not yet earn enough money to buy the latest iPhone AND plasma television AND vacation in the Tropics, we continue to add more and more “classes” of people to the roster of the “oppressed.”  We even have political candidates promoting the notion that somehow we will be a much better society if we simply relieve everyone of their unpleasant responsibilities.  Really?  Will that premise also apply to firefighters and hospice workers?  Military personnel?  Pediatric Oncologists?  Sanitation workers?  And by the way, regardless of whether the topic is student loans, tuition, or healthcare costs, those politicians aren’t really erasing the responsibility, they’re just imposing it onto somebody else, feeding into the ever-growing premise of “I don’t care who takes care of that particular need of mine, as long as it’s NOT ME!”

With respect to this issue, it’s time that certain members of society grow up and face reality.  Students who borrowed money are legally and morally obligated to repay the debt.  They should stop the “not fair” whining, because the rules of the game were well known before the game began, and they still CHOSE to play.  They need to just figure it out, make a budget, have a plan, and buy only what they can afford.  They may need to work more than one job, even a job they don’t really like, and don’t tell me how hard it is, because I know exactly how hard it is.  I’ve worked as a substitute teacher, a door-to-door salesman, a private cab driver, a handyman, a telemarketer, and a janitor, all AFTER earning my Master’s degree.  Along the way, I managed to pay back every single dollar of my student loans, and if a near-sighted, follically-challenged product of the Flint Public Schools can do it, then anybody can.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – An Every Day Man

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It took me many years to finally understand and appreciate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was only 6 yrs. old when he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I was 10 when he was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. During the ensuing years of junior high, high school and college we learned about him and his role in the struggle surrounding the American Civil Rights Movement.

Given the magnitude of his influence on our culture, it’s hard to believe he was only 39 when he died. However, along with his much-publicized efforts to guide America to a better place, there were also accounts of his (normal, typical) human flaws and failings. Initially, I chose to focus on the latter, not because I was white, but because I was lazy, and it was easier.

Dr. King challenged us, all of us, in ways that often made both his supporters and his detractors uncomfortable. He asked…, no, check that… he demanded that we look more closely at things that we either could not, or would not see, both in our culture, and in the mirror. This all seemed like it involved genuine dedication and even outright work, and at the time, I just couldn’t be bothered.

I had to grow up to appreciate him. I had to age, experience life, and thankfully along the way, learn. I had to mature, to even simply wise up in order to recognize the significance of this amazing man and his noble mission.

Growing up in Flint during the 60’s & 70’s, I experienced both the best, and the worst that Flint had to offer. However, many years later, after leaving Flint and living in too many places to count, there are aspects of that time in Flint about which I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been pleased. LONG before the word “diversity” was even a small part of our vernacular, we had cultural diversity and acceptance for each other as individuals, especially within our age group.

That state of being was NOT in deference to political correctness, because that phrase didn’t even exist. The robust, blended milieu was absolutely real, not this watered-down, homogenized, sensitivity-laden drivel that we see misguided do-gooders trying to create today. We had respect for each other, and we also held each other accountable. We did it because we lived it every single day, and we didn’t need some clueless, pretentious bureaucrat showing up to “empower” us with some sort of stupid “program.”

I think Dr. King would have liked a lot of what he saw in Flint, and even more of what he saw in us. I believe that had he lived to further his mission, we would certainly have at the very least, a much more clear understanding of what racism is, and what it is not. I believe that he would agree that much of what is now labeled as racism is simply opportunism on the part of the racism accusers. Dr. King would be angered that his Dream has been hijacked by people who have forgotten that his Dream was for ALL people.

Were he here today, I believe he would be disgusted by our constant bickering, finger-pointing, and self-righteous indignation. He would be angered by our use of diversity as fuel for divisiveness. He would admonish us to spend considerably less time being offended, and much more time being effective.

There have been many great Americans throughout history who have, by example, shown us that we as a people do indeed have a great deal of work to do, and though it will not be at all easy, it will most certainly be worth it. Though the third Monday in January has become the day we set aside in his honor, to truly give honor, we should strive every day to remember that Integrity is more important than intellect, that Responsibility is more important than riches, and Character is more important than color.

It took me a while to come to appreciate the man we now know as MLK, and I can only hope that more and more of America will eventually get there as well. Rest in peace Dr. King, may we one day be so very fortunate as to properly understand, embrace, and ultimately achieve your Dream.