"I Have a Dream" That Today We Remember - by Greer Clem
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism…Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.” - Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream Speech" on August 28, 1963
Fifty four years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech” as he looked out upon a crowd of thousands that had gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument to have their spirits renewed and their hopes replenished. In January, thousands again gathered in that same hallowed spot to protest the election of a despicable man. This very month, thousands gathered in Boston to protest those same hateful groups that have targeted minorities since the inception of our country and long before. But I see the same glimmers of resilience and hope in the faces of protesters in my lifetime as I see in the faces of those who came before; those people who make neighborhood streets and town squares new hallowed ground. As our country faces a natural disaster and continues to stew in political turmoil, today is an opportunity for reflection. We should take it, as those can be few and far between.
I cannot begin to understand what racism feels like on a daily basis. My struggles will never amount to a lifetime, an entire cultural history, of oppression. But I have always felt a connection to King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” not only because of its historical significance, but because I felt that King, like myself, was an American optimist. His arguments were based in faith that the American dream is real, that the roots of American democracy are far deeper than the intolerance we see. Unlike King, however, I was lucky in that my American optimism faced fairly few challenges. Society has, for the most part, been kind to me, and so my optimism was tended to and well cared for. As many Americans are realizing, however, we have come to a crossroads. King said that he dreamed of a day “when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning. ‘My Country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing’… And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”
If America is to be a great nation. If. I’m sure I have been naïve, but I had not truly considered that America remains at the crossroads of becoming a great nation until recently. Just because you have been a great nation, it is not a constant condition that persists unsupervised. It has to be cared for, revised, and addressed. Trump sits in the Oval Office, perhaps the most hallowed spot in our nation, and preaches that our country is great because he is helping to make it so. We know better. We see the fabric of our nation unraveling to reveal darkness that has always been there, but has been either kept at bay or unaddressed. Just because Trump is giving a voice to hate does not mean it has not always existed, of course. The difference is that those who combat hate have been granted some years of quiet. It has been easy to be a passive citizen, a passenger to a great nation, without truly taking a stand. Perhaps it has always been the cowardly thing to do, but it has been largely forgiven. Not today.
Today we reflect on a man who gave his life and his soul for the betterment of this country, while in Washington, our nation is run by a man who values nothing more than his own life. If only one person reads Dr. King’s speech today, or this article, then perhaps just one more person can be awakened from their passive slumber and shoulder the responsibility that the few have been carrying for far too long. We don’t have to share the same struggles to help each other carry the load. We can endeavor to learn more of each other and to connect with one another so that intolerance and fear cannot succeed in driving our nation far apart. Lastly, I want to leave you with some final words from Dr. King, who said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”