MLK taught us that belonging to each other will give us the American Dream
59 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. attended the March on Washington (August 28, 1963). On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he gave what is considered one of the most memorable speeches in American history—his “I Have a Dream speech”.
At times, portions of his address are commandeered and misused to imply notions that run counter to King’s message and civil rights work. As we return to the fullness of his wise words, let us sink deeply into the powerful ideas and the eternal truths of his message. What he said then is just as true today: “[T]here is an urgency of the moment” to rectify inequality and “shake the foundations of our nation until the bright light of justice emerges”.
Too little is said of the inner and ongoing fortification he mentions that is needed to achieve his dream. We can glean his wisdom as we pursue our nation’s best purpose. MLK spoke of Soul Force to overcome physical violence and the evils of injustice so we do not “wallow in a valley of despair.” For our own protection, King advises that we “not satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness or hatred.” Holding these negative emotions will never sustain us for our work ahead.
He also reminds us—of every ethnicity and skin color—that our destinies are tied together as are our freedoms. We are linked. Thus, we must work together and never turn back “until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream”. We must never be satisfied with the way things are when there exists the “unspeakable horror of police brutality.” O’ how his words sting. The terrorizing and all too common police killings of unarmed Black people continue commonly fifty-nine years later. Our work is far from over.
The “vaults of opportunity, the riches of freedom, and security of justice” are denied those kept in the “manacles of discrimination”. The way we look physically or our supposed ancestry can keep us exiled in our own land—this should never be. America’s promissory note of democracy and justice is still coming back labeled as “insufficient funds”. The “flames of withering injustice” still lick at the wounds of the descendants of the enslaved.
For freedom to ring, King set his sights on something very bold indeed: Family. Specifically, he calls it “the solid rock of brotherhood”. For us to believe in one human family and to behave as though we are one means that we know equality is not created from scratch. No. It already exists inherently. This reality must be continually lived into and made more perfect.
Thus, to live with prejudice is to live in opposition to the reality and benefit of the human family—to live against how we all belong to each other and how our future is always found together. The human family comes together in the same way different instruments unite and play in a symphony. Unity but not uniformity. This harmony is our hope.
With faith, said MLK, we hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. It is by a firm faith that we move onward with hope. We boldly go from this “warm threshold that leads to the palace of justice”. Through perseverance, dignity, and discipline, he said, we continue to advance to secure the rights and freedoms of all citizens—including the freedom from fear. Together we make sure that this American dream of democracy becomes a reality for each of us. It is our self-evident birthright. It is the promise of the American creed—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is overdue for the Black population of our nation and is owned to us all. Let freedom ring!
By Lisa Colón DeLay