I wasn’t born when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech during that tumultuous summer of 1963 when a quarter million people marched on Washington, but King’s inspiring words have floated around in my head much of my adult life.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
King’s ideas, and more so, his actions, have stood as a powerful reminder that even the most insurmountable challenges can be conquered when one person’s dreams are fueled by passion and commitment.
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For the past several days I’ve spent numerous hours trying to write a meaningful tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., agonizing over each word, nuance, and angle. But nothing I created felt worthy of Dr. King and all the extraordinary things he did.
I wanted so badly to get this tribute right that I continually got it wrong. My words weren’t powerful enough nor my ideas brilliant enough, or my approach passionate enough to adequately honor somebody who changed so much for our country.
My daughter, Olivia, watched as I sat at my computer, struggling with my thoughts. She watched as I listened to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube, feeling the emotion I was trying to put into words. She watched as I played U2’s music video, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”—one of my all-time favorite songs. Then she watched as I closed the lid on my laptop and gave up.
I tried to ignore the crummy feeling that immediately washed over me, but I couldn’t. I had let myself down (particularly since I was trying to honor somebody whose character was the epitome of strength, determination and persistence), and I had also set a horrible example for my daughter. Nothing about it felt okay.
What came next though changed everything.
Olivia came back into my office a few minutes later, put her arms around my neck, then said, “I think we should do something special.”
I was so deep in my self-flagellating thoughts that I merely placated her with, “Hmmmm,” not even thinking about what she was trying to say.
Olivia, who is nothing but persistent, tried once again to get my full attention and shake me out of my glum mood, repeating subtly, “I THINK WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING SPECIAL.”
Finally, I snapped backed in a semi-annoyed voice–not wanting to play the guessing game, “Do something special for what?”
“You know, Mom…uh…Martin Luther King.” (duh!).
That’s all she had to say to make everything right. I couldn’t put into words how important this man was to me, or to our nation, but my 8-year old instinctively knew, and wanted to honor him.
At dinner we symbolically lit candles and talked about Dr. King and all he did. We talked about the difficulties he faced and how he changed our nation by pursuing his dream of equality with passion and commitment.
Then Olivia said, “Tell me about Rosa Parks.” When my husband explained that she was arrested because she wouldn’t give up her seat for a white person and go to the back of the bus, Olivia said, “Are you kidding me? That makes no sense.”
The fact that she could not comprehend this way of thinking said everything.
It reminded me of when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Olivia was just five years old, but Jeffrey and I kept her home from preschool that day so she could watch Obama’s historic inauguration with us on TV.
I had to explain to her that I couldn’t have been happier or more proud of our country. We were finally living up to our creed that all men are created equal.
Jeffrey simply said, “I want you to always remember this moment, Olivia.”
Just like the conversation that surrounded Obama’s inauguration, our entire dinner conversation last night focused on judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, just like Martin Luther King dreamed so many years ago.
The topper to my whole “perfect moment” evening though, was when Olivia asked, “Why don’t people work on Martin Luther King Day?” When I told her that many people choose to honor him by doing community service or giving back, she immediately said, “I want to make lunches for homeless people again. Can we? Pleeeeeeease?”
So there you go, Dr. King, we will be honoring you once again by giving back to our community, and continuing to celebrate your dream–a dream that becomes more and more powerful with each new generation, simply because equality for all is a given in the eyes of young people who have not yet learned to be ignorant.