As we prepare to celebrate and reflect on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, I have been reading articles and seeing special reports on TV about the “I Have a Dream” speech. And, while I have heard most of it before in some form or another, things have struck me a bit differently this year.
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:
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.”