“I have a dream…”
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and gave a speech that has now transcended generations. It was a speech of hope, of progression, of a hope that one day both Black, and Brown people of this country can be seen as equals to their white counterparts.
In the years that followed, King’s speech would be taught in classrooms across the nation, repeated millions of times, and be the example of the hope of an America that many believed finally turned the page and would start to treat all human beings as equals. Nearly one year later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed and put into law the Civil Rights Act which would help outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin. Progress at last. So we were made to believe.
The fight was never over. It had only just begun. In 1968, Martin Luther King was murdered as he stood outside at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Other leaders of the Civil Rights movement also faced similar fate including Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Sammy Younge Jr., and more.
That day of the March on Washington was a powerful moment in this country. It brought Black men and women, and allys of the movement hope of a better America. One that would live by the words “one nation under god.”
Dr. King stood at the podium, looked at a quarter of million people standing across the greens of the National Mall, not far from the Lincoln Memorial where many remember and pay respect to a President who freed the slaves just over a century beforehand with the ratification of the 13th Amendment of the United States constitution and began his speech.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.
Those very words “I have a dream”, mixed with the passion and inflection of his speech on that mild, sunny, summer day continued to inspire millions as it replayed on television and radio all over the nation.
Yet it was only a dream deferred.
It took 8 minutes and 46 seconds to remind the world of the work that is yet to be done to meet that dream. As video showed the world Officer Derek Chauvin press his knee against George Floyd’s neck as the 47-year-old gasped he could not breathe and yelled for his deceased mother as he passed away in the middle of the street in broad daylight as others of his fellow officers not only watched but assisted. It did not stop there. These terrible stories of Black men & women being shot, or killed only continued. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, and many other stories continued to the forefront. The summer of 2020 brought protests across this country calling for the equality that King and many, many others stood, spoke, and fought for. It made America look itself in the mirror in front of the world once again to ask, have we really progressed?
Progress is not a straight line forward. President Barack Obama would know best as he historically became the first Black president of the United States of America in 2008. Yet, he knew that to continue to move forward as a nation, and as a people, more work had to be done as he said during his re-election speech in November of 2012.
“We believe in a generous America; in a compassionate America; in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag. To the young boy on the South Side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a President. That’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go. Forward. That’s where we need to go.
Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus, and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.”
Where is that common bond today? We enter an era in this country severely divided. 56 years after thousands of people covered the National Mall full of hope, dreams, and a fair fight for equality, a mob of angry and fired up citizens of the United States filled with hate, walked through that very piece of land with nooses as they tried to overturn a Presidential election they believed was stolen from them by storming the United States Capitol building, although there were no facts to sustain their truth that it was indeed stolen. Men and women carrying the confederate flag, yelling and wearing memorabilia about the new Civil War 156 years after it had ended, and only feet away from the place where Dr. Martin Luther King is memorialized in Washington D.C. The cities that were contested in the election such as Philadelphia and Atlanta, were areas with a highly concentrated population of Black and Brown people which statistics show tend to vote more for the Democratic party. This just was not the dream of America thousands marched for on that summer day in 1963. But it’s time for us all to listen.
It has been a rude awakening to those blinded by the marketing campaign of hope and equality in this country. In two days, the first Black woman will be inaugurated as the Vice President of the United States. The symbolism will mean a lot to people who are looking for another sign of hope, and progress around the world. Following years of divisiveness, it is a time where late Millennials and Gen-X’s can begin to voice their opinions and show that it is truly time to bring this nation that symbolizes the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned when he stood across from the Washington Monument and shared his dream with the world.
“First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often if feels as though you were moving backward, and you lose sight of your goal: but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by.”
In 1967, Dr. King released the book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? In the book, he addresses a social movement to fight poverty, and create equality through wealth. According to 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, “the typical White family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family.” Using his words, we could use these statistics to bring about a plan to bring more social and economic equality to Black and Brown communities in America.
Things may not have changed as much as we believed they have over the past 50 years, but progress has been made. In order to find our answers to Dr. King’s dream of a day “when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last,” we must learn from our history, sit down and speak to each other, and bring forth ways to find common ground into a greater tomorrow. While we face a rocky road ahead, the decisions we make in the next few years will shape the fate of America.
The words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King JR. have never been more important now, than it has been since before his untimely death in 1968. The time is now to learn from our history, and dictate the future of this nation. The world is watching.
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity . . . This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.”