I have a dream.
We all dream. But it is rare that the dream of a single individual fully expresses and captures the hopes and imaginations of an entire nation of people.
I have a dream. I speak those words, and I don’t have to tell you whose they are. You know.
At the foot of the Washington Monument and in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial stood the one in whom the aspirations of his generation resided. The weight of the moment was not lost on him, and he did not disappoint. I was a mere child, but one of millions whose conscience and consciousness would be altered by those four words. Not unlike how Beethoven’s first four notes in his 5th symphony – da da da dum – crafted a landscape altering idiomatic expression, so too did these four words shift the world for me and my peers: I have a dream.
I have a dream. He, Martin, said it. But he knew as well as everyone listening that it wasn’t his dream. He had by that time become the spokesperson for an entire movement, and his words galvanized that movement and inspired those who belonged to it. It was OUR dream, and the spirit world conspired to give Martin what we all needed – a vision big enough to change the world; a rhetoric large enough to express it fully and succinctly; a passion hot enough to inspire it sufficiently; and a courage bold enough to face down the resistance that was coming: I Have a Dream!
We lost him not long after that, but not the dream. It lived. It lives.
Such was his ability to inspire that his dream and his lived on, continuing to speak to us long after his untimely death stole his body from us.
How fitting that a grateful nation pauses every year to honor him, and to rehearse again the words that lifted us up: I have a dream.
We capture those words year after year in celebration of his legacy not simply to rehearse a special moment long past; but more so lest we end the journey prematurely, long before the dream is fulfilled and its hoped for outcome realized.
To be sure, much has happened because of Martin that he only dreamed of – and of that we should all be proud.
But there is more work to do – and we all know it. Once again this week we remind ourselves what Martin stood for and called this nation to. Once again this week we challenge ourselves to strive fully for the dream deferred. Once again we listen for the call to embody equity, to dismantle systems of privilege that continue to distribute wealth and power unfairly to the white inheritors of an injustice they did not start but which they have not sufficiently disowned. Once again we dream – and in the dreaming aspire to move mountains.
Martin, we owe you. Your dream became ours. Our commemorations are little more than noisy gongs and clanging cymbals unless and until we turn dream into reality; hope into accomplishment; rhetoric into action.
Let your lingering spirit continue to goad. Let your abiding presence continue to inspire.
And may it be so that is the day, the time, and the place that all for which you strove, and that for which you gave your life and blood, come. And may the same Spirit that inspired you conspire with us to make America the land in which all are judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. May that Spirit sustain us all as we make our way through long, winding roads that make for justice and lead us all Into the Mystic.