So the story goes: as Dr. King started to wrap up his remarks, he had delivered a solid speech (for him), which would undoubtedly make it the finest any of the rest of us might ever hope to deliver. But, there was a sense with him, and perhaps with others around him, that as he concluded his planned 4-minute speech, he hadn’t yet “nailed” it.
And then Mahalia Jackson chimed in from his side: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Apparently, not once but twice, Mahalia urged: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
Dreams are funny things. They can take us to distant places and liberate our minds and hearts. And yet, the dream untenable can trap us and leave us more hopeless and feeling more stuck in our current reality than ever. As Langston Hughes ruminated on a dream deferred: “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”
Dreams in reality can be as demoralizing as they are liberating.
So, I have been reflecting on Dr. King’s dream to better understand the nature of dreams that become liberating:
- Dreams are strongest when shared. So many of our dreams are our little secrets, visions or aspirations we are too insecure to share. They may even seem absurd. What happens if someone else thinks they are dumb? This is one way dreams become “deferred” and how we ultimately risk carrying them as a “heavy load.” Finding that person or group of people to share your dreams with can provide the strength and validation we need to start acting on them.
- Dreams come alive when we can speak them into being. Ask anyone who has been to any decent leadership training, or therapy for that matter, and they can tell you about how important it is to state your truth openly and allow others the same opportunity. When we speak it, our dream becomes part of our world and not just a concept in our minds.
- Dreams are empowering when there is a path to reach them. Alternately, dreams that stay perpetually distant, untenable, deferred, are disempowering and further marginalize those who most need to dream. For my dream to take root, I need to believe and see how it can become, at least in part, a reality. And, I need the people who believe in me as well as the resources around me to help navigate the path to my dream.
- Dreams become transformative when they tap into shared experiences. Most of us think our dreams, or even the problems we dream beyond, are ours alone. We think that we are the crazy ones, or perhaps the only ones dealing in self-doubt or feeling marginalized. But, of course, we are not. We find safety in common experiences and power in shared dreams, which can set the stage for transformative action.
It wasn’t that Dr. King had a dream; it’s that we did and he spoke it into being. He tapped into our collective experiences and timely sense of possibility and a pathway to change. He pulled the dream out of our hearts and minds and put it into our hands.
Maybe for the sake of our families, schools, workplaces, and communities, we should all be better about sharing our dreams.
Perhaps even more importantly, maybe we should all be like Mahalia Jackson urging others along: “Tell them about the dream.”