In remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, today's Houston Chronicle has an interesting article on Houston's MLK Blvd - its past and its present. MLK Blvd in Houston runs from the southeastern part of the city near Hobby Airport , north to the University of Houston. It is a long, mostly residential street with small businesses lining both sides. I have driven on it near the airport and close to the university but not on the stretch between the two.
Snaking north to south from the University of Houston to its dead end at Almeda-Genoa Road, the street named for Martin Luther King Jr., transects some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. A third of the residents live below the poverty level, and the harshness of their lives is chronicled by the rap lyrics of South Park Mexican, Scarface and Z-Ro.
Look and you'll see a street lined with a shabby procession of barber shops and grocery stores. Look again, and you'll see mom-and-pop businesses, flourishing churches and even headquarters for national companies. The boulevard is a street of dreams; a street of dreams broken.
Such paradoxes seem particularly sharp today, the national holiday honoring King, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his civil rights work in the turbulent 1960s.
For some who live and work on the boulevard, the possibility that Barack Obama might become the nation's first black president makes King's dream of brotherhood seem brighter than ever. For others, Obama's campaign simply reminds of other black politicians, who, they believe, proved disappointments.
"We are facing things in our lives that we've never faced before," said boulevard real estate agent Dorothy Pruitt-Harris. "Gas prices, oil prices, credit problems. A lot of people don't know where to go."
Speaking of King's assassination 40 years ago this April, Pruitt-Harris' colleague, insurance broker Trazawell Franklin Jr., added, "That was 40 years ago ... and we're still dreaming. Things are still the same. We're still the last hired and the first fired. We're still waiting for the right leadership, the right positions and the right time."....
......"I feel things are really messed up," Pruitt-Harris said, "but if (Obama) does get elected, maybe he can bring things back together."
Franklin seemed unconvinced, arguing that even during the tenure of Mayor Lee Brown and Police Chief Clarence Bradford, both African-Americans, "heads still were beat, we still had profiling."
A short distance away, at the national headquarters of the Harlon's barbecue chain, company president Candace Brooks Clement offered a different view. Her company, founded by her father in 1977, now operates restaurants in Houston, Austin, Nacogdoches and Las Vegas and employs 105 workers.
"The dream is still going for us," she said. "We have aspiration. We still want to go higher in the profession."