In February we celebrate Black History Month in our country. I’ve always been a student of history, particularly American history. I am not black, nor do I pretend to understand the dynamics of the civil rights movement which seems to be tied so closely to this month long celebration. But I appreciate the reason for the season, so to say.
As a kid, I remember learning about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. At the time, it meant little more to me than getting a day off school in January. But as I grew older and learned more about the man, what he stood for, and how he mobilized a nation to rise up against oppression, I began to appreciate the work he did. I also began to understand what it meant to be “called” to do something. Many people talk about a calling, especially in a religious or spiritual context.
King was called, for sure – but before King was called, he was just an ordinary guy – a father. He had, like many of us parents have now, just a few simple wishes for his children – and that is evident in the speech we all know so well. The “I have a dream” speech delivered on that day in 1963 lasted just a few short minutes, but it puts a powerful cap on a much longer speech delivered in the shadow of the Lincoln memorial in our nation’s capitol.
In school you read or listen to Rev. King’s famous 1963 “I have a dream” speech, and learn why it has withstood the test of time. Over the years, the speech has been studied by scholars and historians (each one of them much smarter than me) to track its influence on the civil rights movement, on public policy, and on the sentiment of the American people in general. For the purposes of this blog, I’m not going to discuss anything so lofty.
No matter how political the speech may seem, or how thoroughly laced with spiritual references it may be, it asks us to visualize and realize a state of mind and a state of being, which in my opinion, is not that hard to achieve. In reality, the “I have a dream” part of the speech, however symbolic it may be, is just a short list of things that EVERY father wishes for his children. That they grow up safe, secure, and with opportunities the generation before them might not have experienced. That’s why I write about it on this blog – a blog for parents.
Here are a few points in the dream speech that mean something special to me now that I didn’t quite realize before becoming a father.
I have a dream…
…that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed….that all men are created equal
Right out of the Declaration of Independence, this phrase has been invoked throughout the last two hundred years by people who have faced injustice. To me, as a father, it means that we are all in the same boat, none better or worse than the next person. It means that my kids will have the ability to voice their opinion, no matter how different it may be from the masses, and that they can do so without fear of retribution. It means in the eyes of the law, my children will be treated fairly, without favoritism. It also means that we as parents and educators have an obligation to teach our children that no person is above or below another, and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.
…that one day sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will they be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood
Servant and master, friend and foe, lion and lamb – this too has been repeated in the texts of many of the world’s religions, and it refers to forgiveness and respect. To me, it means that our generation should be able to cast our differences aside so we may set a better example for our children. To let them know we see other people as our brothers and sisters, our equals, and that they should see people their age in the same way.
…that my four little children will one day live in a nation that doesn’t judge them by the color of their skin but by the content of their character
It means that in our great country, my children, your children, will have access to the same services regardless of race, sex, age, or any other physically defining demographic to which they may belong. It means that my children, like your children, will be able to prosper based on their ability and their intellect, and not the fact that they were born with a certain name, or in a certain city.
…that little black boys and black girls will one day be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers
King’s dream, like mine, envisions a place that has not known hatred for so long that our kids know nothing other than peace and security, and that their neighbor is their friend. For this to become true, we need to first set aside our own hang-ups as adults, and to teach our children and grandchildren to sow the seeds of love in favor of the seeds of hatred.
…When we let freedom ring from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholic, 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!”
Freedom transcends any physically defining quality, and whatever differences we neighbors may have are trivial compared to the notion of true freedom, and that it should be a right available to us all.
We’ve come a long way since 1963, and although it might sound cliche, we still have some work to do. In my opinion, the work that remains isn’t anything that can be put down on paper or signed into law. It has to come from a change in our hearts and our minds. We have to commit to being better people, and to setting a better example for our children, because they learn how to act from us first.
In the words of Rev. Dr. King, “We cannot turn back. We can never be satisfied.” His work carries on, and we celebrate that work today, and all month long.
If you’d like to view the longer speech delivered by Dr. King, you can view a historical archive video on YouTube here.