We all have a dreamPublished 6:44am Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Another school year had just started and I was beginning the fourth grade. My ninth birthday was just two weeks away. I had no awareness that one of the greatest speeches in American history had been given that day from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech would come to be considered the top American speech of the 20th century. He was the 16th person on the long program that had drawn over 250,000 civil rights supporters to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Ironically, the dreams were not in the original speech. King’s original text was designed to honor Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which had been given a hundred years earlier. The timing was to coincide with the hundred year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Like many words that have moved people over the ages, those spoken from the heart have more power than those read from a paper. Even King did not know exactly what he was going to say just hours before the speech.
For fifty years, I have heard those words. I have seen segregation through the eyes of a boy who knew no other way. I heard those words as my high school desegregated. I was there when courageous people of color walked the halls of my college seeking nothing more than the same education that I desired.
It is as an adult, however, that I came to understand the power of believing in fairness and justice for all people. I am blessed to have people of several different minorities working with and for me. I am blessed from my years in politics to have seen some of the real behind the scene struggles that come with seeking true equality.
The changes over the last half century have been dramatic. Anyone who says that progress has not been made didn’t grow up in a town where the black kids went to a three room wooden school house or had to go to the back door of the café.
However, is also true that King’s dream is not complete and much remains to be done. Race still dominates much of our culture and our everyday lives.
When I look at my own community, I realize that our future depends on the dream of a good job, a good education, and a good quality of life. The expectation of a better life for our children drives us to work through the tough times even though the task seems endless. This hope is not specific to race or religion or any of the other things that divide us as a people.
Take the time to listen one more time to King’s speech and its soaring rhetoric. Take pride in how much has changed and reflect on what must still be done. Freedom is a word with different meanings for different people. Invest just a little of your time working to make freedom ring for all. You will be a better person because of it.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org