“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…
I have a dream today ... I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the blazing August sun, I stood drenched in sweat, proud to be one of the 100,000 voices gathered in Washington, DC to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. I, a college student, had traveled on a bus from Connecticut with other student activists to agitate for a federal holiday to celebrate King’s life. We were idealistic and optimistic. We believed that if we raised our voices loud enough, we could convince our nation to come together and celebrate a man for whom racial equity and nonviolence were not just theoretical concepts, but were a way of life. The third Monday in January became a federal holiday in 1986.
Last weekend, as we celebrated King’s holiday, I gave thought about how appropriate it was that King had delivered his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument created to honor the man who was brave enough to outlaw human bondage, knowing that his actions would cause our fledgling nation to go to war. Like Lincoln, King saw the devastation that violence and hate was bringing to his world, but he was not frightened by the overt Jim Crow discrimination that characterized so many southern states. He had Hope.
Today, 56 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, much has changed—and much has stayed the same.
How do we create change in a world where hearts need to heal, minds need to mend and souls need to soar to higher ground? We need only look to the text of King’s speech to find a way to bring these questions to fruition. Those familiar with King’s speech frequently turn to the more famous passages. What is often overlooked or forgotten is that King, after he states that he wants his children to be judged by their character, rather than by the color of their skin, provides us with more than just inspirational words. An architect, he gives us a blueprint to show us how to craft his vision into a reality. Embedded within the speech is the operative idea that changes, transforms his dream. And that concept is Faith.
“With Faith,” King said, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
Today, some of the mountains of despair seem to mirror those of yesteryear: In 1963, the Klu Klux Klan bombed a Baptist church, killing 4 little girls. In 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine people attending a prayer service in Charleston. In 2017, a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing one. In 2018, a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh left 11 worshipers dead. And the list goes on.
What is the fuel that feeds our Despair and causes us to lash out so viciously toward one another?
We are driven apart by suspicion, unwilling or unable to see that of God in each other. We succumb to relying on dehumanizing stereotypes to characterize “them,” rather than taking the time to get to know each other or appreciate our differences. Hate seems insurmountable because it feels visceral, feels as if it radiates from the souls of the afflicted.
But from this impasse, if we rely on Faith, we can carve out a stone of hope. Hope that, rather than relying on socially constructed paradigms, such as race and intelligence, we will choose to judge people as King suggests—by the content of their character. Hope that we will put away the weapons of war that tear communities apart. Faith that just as a small stone can create great ripples when cast with intention, we, too, with deliberation can make small changes in how we act in the world and create a wondrous ripple effect. Hope that when conversations seem rough and ragged, when misunderstandings run rampant and we seemingly can find no common ground, Faith will allow us to challenge our own worldview. We will ask ourselves: When we listen, do we hear? When we hear, do we comprehend?
“With Faith,” King said, “we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
In today’s political climate, jangling discords is a mild description of the chaos that we see our governments struggling with, on the local and national level. Discord about who are qualified to be true Americans, when we all, with the exception of indigenous people—Native Americans—are immigrants, one way or another. Discord relating to how ideas, mere ideas, pull us apart and create barriers between us. Discord that makes it difficult to remember that, at the end of the day, we are all mortal—frail, imperfect, only wanting others to simply recognize our humanity and treat us with dignity and respect.
This beautiful symphony of brotherhood that King dreamed about is constructed from hearts that mend after being broken; created by folks unafraid to stay firm in their convictions and beliefs, no matter how unpopular; and most importantly, this brotherhood and sisterhood requires that we each accept responsibility for our individual part of the symphony, that is, that we realize that we are instruments of God and that we have an obligation to faithfully play our roles in society, as we are so led, that will lead to a gathering of souls committed to working harmoniously together.
“With faith,” King said, “we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
Buried in this list of ways that King instructs us to behave to achieve freedom—working together, struggling together, going to jail together and standing up for freedom together—is prayer. This call to prayer is surrounded by active verbs—working, struggling, standing—information that tells us that for King, prayer is not static, solitary, inert, but rather is dynamic, alive and, like continuing revelations, is more than just a state of mind; prayer is alive and transformative, a way to move from the normal and mundane into that which is Divine.
Do we run from the Divine? When faced with the choice of behaving Godly or acting selfishly, do we choose the easier path, one that may feel comfortable, but that keeps our status quo intact, allowing us to take no emotional risks and thereby, stand to lose nothing? Do we run from the Divine? Choosing to overlook prayer as an obvious answer to strife? Do we run from the Divine because prayer requires dedication, introspection and humbling ourselves not just to the Divine, but to each other? Do we run from the Divine because, unlike King, we don’t have Faith and we won’t dare to Dream?
In his dream state, King wants us to imagine that which may seem unreal and unattainable. He wants us to be jarred into an alternative way of looking at problems and thereby act to resolve them in ways unimagined.
King wants us to move into a state of consciousness where we can no longer actively ignore an issue and pretend that it is not there. King teaches us that we can use the power of faith to transform our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our world.
Let us consider how the power of Faith can propel us forward, surpassing our own understanding of what is possible, helping us to raise our voices loud enough to be heard. Let us consider how the power of Faith can enable us to Dream, take away Despair, revive Hope and can, through Prayer, transport us to the Divine.
Cassandra Israel believes that Silence is God's first language and that our goal as humans is to be still and listen with our hearts and souls. Many thanks for her contribution!