Children scamper quietly between family members in the sky-colored church. Churchgoers dressed in a rainbow of colors sway back and forth on packed wooden pews. Skin tones ranging from sand color to caramel to the color of a strong espresso complete the vivid scene. It’s an image of the world that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., envisioned.

As the joyous congregation reflects on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, they are joined by almost 100 medical professionals, educators and community leaders who are special guests in the service dedicated to the slain civil rights leader.

Outside, hunkering Chevys and Fords from the ’50s rumble by. Some guests say that it looks as if time has stood still. On the contrary, the world has seen many changes. Just as time has passed in the United States since those now vintage cars were brand new, so time has marched on in Cuba. The January 2002 celebration is in Havana’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the guests are visiting from the United States. When the service ends with intertwined hands and voices singing “We Shall Overcome,” some guests cry as they reflect on the symbolic bridge formed by two peoples who have been separated by U.S. policy, which, unlike time, has stood still.

Editorials reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are usually limited to the holiday observing his birthday, which was celebrated Jan. 21. However, to truly celebrate his life, it’s important to be reminded every day of unjust policies that need to be confronted.

One lingering injustice is U.S. policy towards Cuba. The policy has many faces, the trade embargo being the most well known. Another aspect is the travel ban. U.S. citizens must apply for a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control to legally travel to Cuba. This restriction deters many people from even considering traveling to the island nation.

This deterrent is especially troubling in light of the often-ignored African and other cultural links the countries share. As one member of the mainly African American delegation shared from the pulpit, “Coming to Cuba is like coming home.” Donna Christian-Christensen, the U.S. Virgin Islands delegate to Congress, nodded in agreement.

Another member of the group, renowned medical professional Dr. Lucy Perez, evoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their tired bodies and education and culture for their spirits. I believe what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men will build back up.”

That dream, for many Cubans, is what their country is struggling to achieve. In the United States, a vocal group of Cuban-Americans often drowns out the expression of this dream. It would be irresponsible and shortsighted to believe that Cuba has achieved some sort of utopia or has even come close to resolving all of the country’s challenges. However, it is equally irresponsible to black out information about the island’s achievements and struggles to insure health, education, and culture for its population.

How can the U.S. public struggle to understand the lives of the Cuban people when U.S. tourists are denied free travel to the island? Cuba supporters wonder if it is because the United States is trying to hide a model that could serve as an example. Travel ban proponents claim it is to deny income to a repressive government.

The opportunity to share hopes and fears with the Cuban people should not be a privilege granted by a U.S. agency, but rather, a right enjoyed by all. The moving worship that the group of North Americans shared with their Cuban brothers and sisters should be a common occurrence between the two countries.

While the great prophet Dr. King is not with us today to share his thoughts on U.S.-Cuba relations, we can reflect on an appropriate piece of his poetic wisdom. “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we must focus on the many areas where the time for justice has yet to come.”

Steven Bennett is executive director of Witness for Peace. Witness for Peace has maintained a permanent international team in Nicaragua for the past 15 years, and in Guatemala for the last eight years. The Witness for Peace program’s work is economic, political and social analysis.

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