On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and none of it was planned. The night before, King asked his aides for advice about the speech, as to whether he should use the “I Have a Dream” line, which he had used a few times before. His advisor, Wyatt Walker, said, “It’s trite, it’s cliche. You’ve used it too many times already.” The next day, King did not plan to use it. He wanted something as powerful as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address but just couldn’t seem to nail it. When he reached the podium, it was almost 90 degrees and the crowd of 250,000 people had been standing in the heat for hours. King was 16th on the program, almost at the very end. As Norman Mailer wrote, “there was… an air of subtle depression, of wistful apathy which existed in many. One felt a little of the muted disappointment which attacks a crowd in the seventh inning of a very important baseball game when the score has gone 11-3.” King delivered a rather staid address, reading from his notes, but it clearly wasn’t as passionate as other speeches he had given in the past. As he neared the end, Mahalia Jackson, who was behind him, having sung earlier, cried out: “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King paused, put down his notes and decided to preach like the Baptist minister he was, and the rest is history:
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” (The Guardian: Aug 9, 2013.)
Over 50 years later, some of the dream has come to fruition, like having a black president in the White House the past eight years, but racial tensions continue, with white cops killing innocent blacks and blacks retaliating. Most recently in the news, there was a very sad and disturbing story of four angry black teens kidnapping and torturing a disabled white teen to seek revenge on all white people. The ordeal was videotaped by the teens and posted to social media because I guess getting noticed for their hatred was far more important than not getting caught. Still, it makes me so sad and angry that all these years after the Civil Rights Movement, there continues to be more racial hatred and violence. Dr. King would be so disheartened to see this, and yet I’m sure he wouldn’t be surprised. Racism is taught at home and anti-racism has to be taught as well. Children don’t just grow up knowing the importance of not judging by the color of one’s skin. It has to be taught. Children aren’t born racist. Babies love all colors; they love people who play with them. It is adults who teach them to be mean and judgmental and afraid of people not like them. And we should be ashamed.
My family is fortunate in that we can afford to live in a town that is very racially and religiously diverse, with 30% Jews and many Asians and African Americans. My son’s classroom last year was 50% non white, his teacher was Indian-American and his aide was African-American. The year before, his teacher was Costa Rican. My daughter’s school is an international school with 75 countries represented. At her birthday party, half of all the girls spoke another language as their first language. My husband’s best friend is Japanese, and our kids have grown up thinking that “Crazy Uncle Dave” is somehow blood related, even though we are pale white people. My kids know that discriminating against people because of the color of their skin is like choosing friends because of the color of their tennis shoes– it’s pretty random and unfair. But not all parents teach this. Some white children are taught to hate and fear blacks and visa versa, and that’s sad, because the cycle will never end until all of us learn and teach the right thing.
As you begin this new year, committed to finding and living your world stage, remember the brave preacher that one hot August day, who had a dream that someday black children would be equal to white. This is also a man who took a chance, against the advice of his aides, and put his speech down, knowing he had no other words to read from, and followed his heart in order to inspire a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people looking for direction and hope. Remember to ask yourself how you are helping Martin Luther King’s dream to live on in the way you live your life. And ask yourself what your “I Have A Dream” speech is, and what would happen if just once, you lay down your notes and spoke from your heart. You might just make history too.