A dream is a glorious thing. Often life’s progress is fueled by the power that comes from a dream.
Students study hard with the hopes of securing a good job, climbing the corporate ladder, supporting a family and achieving their own personal versions of the proverbial American Dream.
Dreams have a way of stretching our potential and our possibilities.
Clearly, Sen. Robert Kennedy appreciated this as he galvanized many during his ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign, loosely quoting George Bernard Shaw, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”
Yet, no dream has captured the imagination of the collective mind of America more than the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. shared at the 1963 March on Washington, and with good reason. The closing of that speech caused Americans to envision a day when our children, “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Still, some never admired King or his work. In fact, as evidenced by his assassination, many people hated him. And though few openly admit it, many people today still detest both his teachings and his memory. Occasionally, you can sense that you are among them when you detect their irritation by the mere mention of the annual celebration of King’s life.
Yet, if on that day in 1963, he had been able to fast forward to the dawning days of 2016, I’m afraid that King would have viewed the collective misapplication of “the dream,” by those of us who loved him, admire him and are inspired by him, as a tragic social nightmare.
Sadly, we used his words, “I have a dream that one day black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls,” to form a view of integration that is both romanticized and naïve.
Consequently, integration became the ultimate objective for most, while black businesses, black schools and even black churches have suffered and in many cases been forced to close. Certainly, King’s dream did not include trading these wonderful institutions that historically empowered black people for a mere seat on a bus, service at a lunch counter or a sprinkling of jobs that were not previously accessible.
King was a man who sought to raise our consciousness. But ironically, we essentially overdosed on his dream and slipped into a self-induced state of social, moral and economic unconsciousness. Thus, rather than laboring for the peace captured in the dream we’ve “cried peace . . . when there is no peace,” failing to heed one of King’s warnings derived from the prophet Jeremiah.
As a result, many are still pretending we do not have a gun problem. Yet, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, only three developed countries have a higher murder rate than the United States.
Even with statistical and video evidence to the contrary, some still pretend that police officers do not disproportionately use unnecessary deadly force on black males.
Elections continue to show that hundreds of thousands are still willing to vote against their own best interests on issues like health care and education, due to their inability to see past the color of the president’s skin.
Just weeks ago, Circuit Judge Olu Stevens in Louisville was nearly removed from the bench, essentially for ruling there is something wrong with the commonplace strategies prosecutors use to prevent black jurors from serving on trials of black defendants.
Sometimes we march, but we have no plan. Sometimes we sing, “we shall overcome someday.” But after our feel-good holiday programs, we spend very little time thinking about, let alone working toward, that day.
Yet, that day must come if America is to ever live up to her potential by becoming the best version of herself.
On another day King said, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Our reality today is that we have not kept moving forward. And until we do, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream can never come true.
The Rev. L. Clark Williams is director of ministry at Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.