I HAVE BEEN SENDING THE VERSES and videos from “I Have a Dream” Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech to both my sons since they were teenagers. His words have moved me for nearly fifty years. As a caring father, I simply wanted to pass knowledge and insights on to my boys of King’s wisdom and courage.
The month of January serves to honor King’s birthday. His famous speech in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a favorite of mine, taking me many years to fully appreciate. My exposure to blacks was mostly from far away. Settings such as Tarzan movies or a few professional athletes on television was about the extent of my exposure. There were also my mom’s Detroit cleaning ladies. I recall the first time I met our maid’s son Danny in our driveway at my house; he was picking up his mother on a Saturday afternoon because the suburban buses were not running. We were both sixteen years old and behaved as if we were two aliens meeting for the first time on the planet Mars. It was very awkward. Each of us was curious of the other. My town was void of black kids. There was much to learn. Still is.
King’s famous speech was a call for a non-violent protest to end discrimination in America. It was a monumental turning point after centuries of struggle for Black Americans. The nation heard the call. It was most certainly a notice to me. It pecked away at my developing life and slowly etched a lasting mark. Out of this chaos came order, hope, and new freedoms. It is still very much an evolution in our nation’s mission, taking precious time as prejudice dies a very slow death. There are still too many who define their world by race, creed, and gender. I work hard at challenging my own prejudgments which I do have.
One man made this difference and King was thrust into the nation’s spotlight. I use his message today to call for an additional awakening in our nation’s constitution. We are in the middle of losing individual freedoms to central control. A broader theme I now bundle with my earlier lessons from King. The country has quietly allowed large institutions to dominate the landscape. Their power and corruption are in their size and this is troublesome to me as I enter the twilight of my earthly existence.
Our nation emerged in 1945 from three decades of intense struggles, including two world wars and a decade of economic depression. We then experienced explosive growth in everything - income, government, businesses, unions, and centralized control. It was all generated by a cresting wave of economic might and power. The U.S. dominated everything for these few decades and like a dysfunctional woman, in which I have had experience, tried to control and solve everything under the sun. Everyone wants more. We should be demanding less. We are a nation of special interests and my fear is expressed today for the consequences of this embolus. Please let it pass. It needs to pass.
M.L. King’s spirited sermon serves to remind me today, fifty years later, that his dream for his people was a nascent call to all Americans to come together. We need to apply his corpus of wisdom and share his message again and again. This is all about our democracy. We cannot walk alone, and we the people must join hands and let freedom ring. Recall King’s closing words of defiance and his expressed manifestation: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” Indeed, such a meaningful pursuit; such an enormous challenge.