Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dr. King's Dream

I'm guilty of believing a little too much in American history. I read the headlines, but not the story. Today... almost 50 years after the famous 'I have a dream' speech, I find myself humming the songs I heard growing up, a little white girl in the south.

You may ask yourself, "Why would a little white girl sing songs such as 'I Shall Be Released', and 'We Shall Overcome' ", and the answer would be because my parents believe in the oral tradition, something near and dear to Dr. King, Jr.'s heart. The spoken word carried the gospel of his Lord to almost everyone in the new world, brought hope to early slaves and song to their heart with the stories taught in this manner. I love the spirit of change in the early 60's... concepts like race and class were new to the world stage, characters we hadn't judged a hundred times before. All of our fates were shaped by hate and the reactions to it and we reacted in childlike fashion. Just 50 years ago, we asked folks to kindly use a different faucet to drink the same lead-laden water that poisons our small towns today, no invitation required. We feasted on produce that kills everything in its path, but us... and argue(d) over the correct monument to the times in our past, like Dr. King, Jr.'s speech just before his death about being a living monument, himself -  having a dream.

Dr. King saw the end without fear. Sensitive to any perception, he even spoke of his own funeral, leading to the famous paraphrased quote on the memorial, 'I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness'. What I believe he meant during this controversial speech is that the change does not belong to one person, but rather, to the movement that carries those people forward, toward goals like justice, peace and righteousness. People carry this change, shoulder its weight and rhythm, but not the goal. Let us benefit from his awareness, the sacred view he held just before he was gunned down in Tennessee.

Dr. King, Jr. knew that the state of humans is suffering. We always suffer something at the hands of society or the fate of the universe. What was fundamentally different for Dr. King was that he refused to sit idly by as this fate was cast upon him and the people he loved, so he drew them into the cause. He taught generations of Americans that we can interact upon the course of the Universe. We decide. He made proclamations, which at the time seemed impossible, and in my short lifetime, I've personally realized this (among others) for the Dr.:
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.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I've seen the country clearer than anywhere else from the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia, where my parents were married before the area became public land. While I don't go about trying to prove the good Dr. King right, I try to live the best life I'm capable of... that's all Dr. King talked about all of those years ago.

There have been a number of times I've steeled myself against this speech, saying to myself be incredibly brave, like you can't possibly be alone, like Dr. King was. That sounds a little like rhetoric, but the truth is I've clung to his revolutionary spirit through my entire life, when there is nothing else to help me be brave, I ask for Dr. King's strength. I ask for that vision, for that faith, and for that commitment. I believe it takes little acts of this bravery to live life for even us normal folks, and if we believe in the right goal, and apply the correct commitment, we can be just as memorable - unstoppable - and poignant - in our age. I am continually inspired by Dr. King's work.

Badly, today, I try to sing "Oh Freedom", a spiritual Joan Baez sang during the March on Washington, in which Dr. King proclaimed to 'Have a Dream' about life in our time. I hope his work inspires everyone today, in spite of the crude delivery I give it. We owe it to our community to champion positive change.

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