I was a toddler, maybe three-years old, happily ignorant of the turmoil around me in 1963. It was a tumultuous time here in the South—and across the nation.
It was a time when little black girls in pigtails and kerchiefs were not safe, not even in churches. It was a time when being black, ”colored,” upped your chances of being hung from a tree.
It was a shameful time, a time when blacks were made “veterans of creative suffering” at the hands of fellow humans. Yes, it was a shameful time, and not just in the South. Racial discrimination and hatred had/has no real boundaries.
It was the time of the Civil Rights movement, and thankfully, I was ignorant of the drama being played out in small towns and industrial cities across our nation.
As I said, I was three on August 28, 1963, when the March on Washington took place. I was probably playing with dolls when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what was to become some of the most powerful words in history—I Have a Dream. His 17-minute speech, spoken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to over 200,000 white and black supporters—was a turning point in the civil rights movement.
With passion he spoke to his followers, acknowledging their plight for justice and equal rights and freedom.
“Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality,” he said. “You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” he added.
But the words that resonated through the crowds and vibrate in the hearts and minds of so many of us still today were, “I have a dream
that one day this nation will rise up
and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-
evident: that all men are created equal.”
And on that day, something shifted. I was too young, too ignorant of the ways of the world, to know it at the time. The story wasn’t over…in some ways, it was only truly beginning. But the dialogue was strong, the conversation could no longer be interrupted, and our nation has only grown stronger from it.
I’m not equipped to talk about how much better things are today than they were or how far we’ve come. I see some evidence. But I’m not sure I have a right to an opinion on this.
But yet it takes so little to light the fire, stir the pot. Which is evidence that hurt simmers. Guilt lingers.
Decades later, there is both comfort and unease. Many of us who were mere children, innocents ourselves, feel unearned guilt. I wish it weren’t so.
But, like Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream. I have a dream that one day we will see, really see, our alikeness, as much as our differences. And that one day, one day, we will no longer even see differences. We will evolve to the place where we know that we come from the same source.
I have a dream that people will recognize one another, not by their color, but by their spirit.
I have a dream that we build upon this dismal past stained with the suffering of so many, and create a world where kindness is the universal language.
I have a dream.
Let’s turn our dreams for unity into reality, starting today. Let Martin Luther King’s dream become our reality.