A King's Dream Deferred
When you reflect before sleep, the ideas can create scenes in your dreams. Dreams possess the potential to transform communities, countries, and continents. Unfortunately, some people with the courage to contemplate with their minds and respond through their bodies die premature deaths.
Fear of death is not a valid excuse to stop dreaming and taking bold actions.
Every January, my school teachers talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His legacy and the holiday commemorating his birthday on the 15th inspired a preview of February’s Black History Month lesson plans. For many years my classmates and I admired the almost mythical advocate for nonviolent resistance.
Martin Luther King, Jr. led protests throughout the height of the civil rights movement. Selma, New York, Chicago, Birmingham, Albany, and Washington D.C. are among the ports where his caravan stopped to challenge injustices. Because of his efforts, he earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at age 35.
King had a dream of equality, but the nightmare of reality killed him.
American racism stirred his melting pot of racial harmony, and individual hatred supported through systemic policies consumed him. When James Earl Ray or one of the potential conspirators assassinated him on April 4, 1968, a bullet put King to sleep forever, but it didn’t kill his dream and fight for justice.
King's passive punches and pushes continue in every nonviolent protest after his death.
For years, I championed the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. His academic and social justice accomplishments provided a counter-narrative to dominant negative depictions of Black men. When I saw footage of him in a church pulpit, his passionate sermons reminded me of my dad.
As an African-American studies undergraduate major at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I dove deeper into King’s history. I learned more about the private and public parts of his life that did not fit into the neat 50-minute classes of my K-12 schools.
In King's speeches, he often talked about racism as a moral issue. Through the lens of Christianity, he viewed individual and structural discrimination practices as a sin. They violated Christ's teachings of love. While he emphasized the importance of morality in public spaces, I learned King also had extramarital affairs behind hotel doors in the cities of successful marches.
King’s acts of adultery never made it to the stages of my classrooms. Instead, we often discussed his direct, nonviolent performances and the highlights of his family life.
In Michael Eric Dyson’s book, I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King Jr., he analyzes the perceptions of King as a healer and troublemaker. The healer persona surfaced in his sermons and pledges to nonviolent protest. However, by quoting his speeches and dissecting documents of his participation in marches and sit-ins, Dyson illustrates the troublemaking associated with Martin Luther King, Jr.
King declared, " There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of the revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." In these words, you can hear King’s frustration and patriotic commitment to improving the United States.
Despite King’s vow to peaceful demonstrations, violence plagued his life. First, a woman stabbed him at a book signing for his first book, Strive Toward Freedom. Then, someone bombed his home, Chicagoans threw rocks at him, and we know how he died.
It took King’s assassination and the subsequent riots for a glimpse of freedom to live in legislation. One week after King's death, the Civil Rights Act passed.
On Monday, I will give a tribute to King. To prepare, I reflected on prior lessons, reviewed his speeches, and read book excerpts and articles about his life.
King once said, "I am the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes. I still have a dream." Outraged by King’s deferred dreams and concerned about the post-racial rhetoric of Barack Obama's campaign, I wrote a poem and shared it in my book, Dear Brother: 82 Powerful Poems to Guide Your Journey to Healthy Black Masculinity. The piece, King’s Dream Deferred, describes the political climate before Obama took office and after #45 moved into D.C.
The opening lines of the poem begin with:
“I still have a dream.
That one day,
These indifferent notions will transcend this ghetto pathology,
Formed by white supremacy, laced with freedom and called democracy.”
I will read the remaining stanzas on Monday near the end of my talk. Each word will either get me terminated, praised, or somewhere between. Regardless of the consequences, I will share it in the spirits of courage, love, and justice. You can look for the video recording on YouTube in February.
Despite the contradictions in King's pulpit sermons, street marches, and romantic relationships, he is an important figure to acknowledge. I don't want to downplay his contributions to the movement.
In Chicago on March 25, 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We are concerned about the constant use of federal funds to support this most notorious expression of segregation. Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.” King expressed rage about inferior healthcare services in communities of color.
Injustices in hospitals continue today. This unfortunate reality must encourage us to do more for underserved populations in the United States and elsewhere.
King's campaign for civil rights started at a local level but expanded to global arenas before he died. He traveled to Ghana with his wife, Coretta, to establish alliances with President Kwame Nkrumah and oppressive movements in Africa.
A friend of mine in Ethiopia shared with me an organization invested in providing food and other essential resources to children impacted by the recent war. The Bee Food Complex, located in Mekelle, Tigray, provides food to children and adults. Follow them on Facebook at this link, share their information with others, and support their work.
Another option is to donate to the World Food Programme and select Ethiopia. I contributed this morning.
Perhaps, consider your contribution a gift to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On Monday, he would have turned 94 years old.
Read more from the references that shaped this post:
Galarneau, C. (2018). Getting King's Words Right. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 29(1), 5-8. doi:10.1353/hpu.2018.0001.
Dyson, M. E., & Jagerman, D. L. (2000). I may not get there with you: The true Martin Luther King, Jr (Vol. 233). Simon and Schuster.