By Branden Polk
“I Have a Dream.” Interesting how those words continue to strike my heart with such meaning and urgency. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. orated with clarity and passion his dream for a nation. That dream now pursues to live on in me, and so many others, who have felt the sting of discrimination, racism, and oppression. Yes, it’s been over 50 years and we are still feeling the sting.
I was not yet born when Dr. King, delivered this masterpiece to thousands on the National Mall. However, this moment was an inciting incident that rippled and blared beyond the confines of time itself. Growing up Black in America, it was common for me to see video footage of Dr. King on that day or renditions of the speech performed in church or other venues. In my youth I was not completely aware of its significance, its prophetic composition, or its call to live an enlightened life of love for all people regardless of their color or background. I have felt the impact of these words my entire life, more than I have understood it with my mind. To this day when I hear it, my face becomes wet with tears, moved by the sacrifices given by so many, without which I would not have had the opportunities I have benefited from today.
I grew up in a rural town in Virgina. There were five stop lights in the county. While the schools had been integrated, it was rare to see social comminglings of the races. I was a vibrant and gifted young man, if I do say so myself. My parents always told me so. Unfortunately, when I was in the 1st grade I wasn’t recognized as such. The parental units took notice, in particular my mother. She inquired. She advocated. And then I was placed in advanced classes with predominantly white students for the duration of my grade school career. To be honest, I have often wondered what would have happened had that situation worked out differently. Would I have left that small town? Would I have gone to college or sought out some other form of secondary education? In reality, the minority students in my school were not being offered the same education that I was now so privileged tor receive. In reality there wasn’t anything so extraordinarily genius about me that warranted the placement in advanced classes. Maybe the difference is simple. My parents knew that I had a right to a brilliant education, equal to anyone else around me. If given the same opportunities as everyone else, paired with a stunning work ethic and discipline, there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t accomplish. Despairingly, the opportunities were not the same. The opportunities were not equal. I had to fight. I had to be competitive. If I wanted to be successful in life and ensure that my children had a plethora of opportunities no previously available, then I would have to fight harder than my white friends.
What does the “I Have a Dream” speech mean to me? It communicates and synthesizes the reality of the African American struggle in the United States while inoculating hope, determination, and relentlessness to behave with Christ-like character in the face of adversity. A message of endurance saying that if we persist, with the dream in our hands and in our hearts, we will see the change we need.
I wasn’t alive during the 60’s at the pinnacle of the Civil Rights movement. But I am alive during a time of great social heat and contention. The majority of African American children are well undereducated. Prisons are filled with Black males, leaving their children orphaned and likely to repeat cycles of violence, delinquency, and mental illness. AIDS and HIV are running rampant in the African American community. Our children are being aborted in the womb at increasing rates. In fact, we are decreasing at an increasing rate. If the Black race were likened to that of the decreasing population of bald eagles, it would be on the endangered species list. Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that scourge of anger, fear, and hurt that is being drawn out the Black community, as it has perceived its ‘unequalness’ in the eyes of the law and in society. Anger so strong that young people would take to the streets of Baltimore and Ferguson, burning to the ground their own businesses and homes.
Well. I also have a dream. A dream that Black people in this country would dream again. A dream that all races and people of all backgrounds could still come together and be a force of good and moral change. That we would all dream aloud the words of Dr. Martin Luther King saying,
“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.”
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 one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
I have a dream. I believe that we can all dream today because Dr. King courageously dreamed yesterday.