We are all familiar with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His words are especially echoed in January, to commemorate the federal holiday established in his honor, and in February, during Black History Month.
Reverend King’s speech railed against the civil inequality and intolerance experienced by African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. He said he dreamed of a day when black people would not be crippled by the manacles of segregation or the chains of discrimination.
Today, I believe that narrative should shift to “We Have a Dream.” Because frankly, Reverend King’s dream died with him. It is time for those of us who are willing to fight for change to dream our own dream of inclusion and equality — and then work to make it a reality.
The Pages of Opinion invite Blade readers to help narrate the importance of Black History Month through the prism of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But instead of his dream, it will be ours.
We are looking for essays, photos, videos, songs, and drawings about what the month means to you, and how we can use our individual strength to empower all people. We encourage schools to take this on as a project, but we also hope to hear from adults who have dreams for their coworkers, neighbors, friends, and community.
A photo or video could range from diversity exploration in everyday life to participation in a Black History Month program. The Blade will republish some of the contributions, in print and online. You can email your offerings to email@example.com. Please include your name, home address, and daytime telephone number.
We have a deep responsibility to determine what role we can play, individually and collectively, in the effort to advance opportunities for all. Within Reverend King’s prism, we must dream and do. Today, our nation calls for a well-run health care system that is accessible to all, equal rights for gays and lesbians, strengthened voting rights for Americans, and immigration reform that is fair and legal.
Reverend King may have focused on African-Americans, but we must be willing also to stand up for Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, poor and disabled people, and any others who have been systemically excluded and discriminated against.
There are no longer separate water fountains in this country. But academic and economic segregation in many of America’s schools is tangible. The social values that Reverend King espoused are often overshadowed by narrow-minded hatred masked as conservatism.
Last week, Saturday Night Live aired a skit called “28 Reasons.” The show’s three African-American cast members — Sasheer Zamata, Jay Pharoah, and Kenan Thompson — made a Black History Month presentation to their class, listing 28 reasons to hug a black guy.
The first reason: Black guys deserve a chance too. Reasons 2-28: Slavery. At one point, one member of the group suggested including jazz as another reason, but they scrapped the idea and went back to slavery.
The biting satire — not for the faint of heart — showed in their classmates’ reactions the white guilt that is often associated with Black History Month. But this month should not be about guilt. It should be about action.
During his State of the Union address last month, President Obama said he wants 2014 to be “a year of action.” But his Black History Month proclamation this year shows that he too recognizes that the dream of racial justice is bigger than one man or woman.
“Every American can draw strength from the story of hard-won progress, which not only defines the African-American experience, but also lies at the heart of our nation as a whole,” the President said. “This story affirms that freedom is a gift from God, but it must be secured by His people here on Earth. It inspires a new generation of leaders, and it teaches us all that when we come together in common purpose, we can right the wrongs of history and make our world anew.”
As we shift the dream from “I” to “we,” let us all commit to improving the course of race relations in America. Let’s all start dreaming — and then take action.
Suzette Hackney is an editorial writer and columnist for The Blade.