Americas’ response to the senseless violence that claimed the lives of 6 and injured another 14 in Arizona once again demonstrates the power of hope over despair, peace over violence, and love over hate. These tragedies coming on the heels of our celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also reminds us of his dream for a better America. Martin Luther King’s August 28, 1963 speech “I have a Dream” galvanized the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age, class or handicap. In this dream the essence of the American creed was reaffirmed by requiring that we judge a person “by the content of their character and not the color of their skin”. In this dream, we were challenged to let “justice roll down like a mighty river”. In this dream we all hoped for a time when we would “hue out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”. These words have become the bedrock of human rights throughout the world. These words have become the true measure of how far we have come and how far we must go if America is to live out its creed of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. But as the guns wielded by those who hate continue to kill, as unrest continues to produce chaos in the Middle East, as children slaves are being sold in Darfur, as the poor continue to be over-represented in prisons and under-represented in our college class rooms, as women continue to be denied equal pay and rights, and as those who look different from ourselves are dismissed, ridiculed, and denied basic freedoms then we must question just how far we have come toward the realization of the dream.
Perhaps the real testament to the power of King’s dream is that we still celebrate it 43 years after a bullet took his life. Perhaps the real measure of the dream is not determined by how many ways we can reiterate the dream in speeches, marches, programs, and proclamations but in tangible, identifiable, and meaningful ways. As millions of our fellow citizens do more then take a day off from work –but render service to the downtrodden, encourage the hopeless, and feed the hungry –just perhaps the dream yet lives. As we witness the expansion of rights, the enhancement of privileges, and the realization of hope we see the vitality of the dream. As we look through our communities we might notice that they are a bit more diverse, our churches a little less homogeneous, our schools a little more inclusive, and our political arenas a little more open to difference – just maybe the dream is alive. No, we have not achieved King’s dream! We have many miles yet to walk. The important thing is that we are willing to make the journey. Therefore, while senseless acts of violence may momentarily cause us grief, America stands strong and resilient as long as we dare to pursue King’s dream.
*Note: Rodney D. Coates is a professor of sociology and gerontology at Miami University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.