What If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Never Told Us His Dream?
I had the wonderful privilege of honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday by being the Keynote Speaker at the Romulus Community Celebration at Romulus High School. It truly brought joy to my heart to share a few words. For my speech, I expanded upon my piece “Wisdomisms – Breaking News: Someone is Waiting on Your Story.” I will hopefully get the video feed soon, however, I wanted to share my speech with you today:
Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to stand before you as we honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is with great appreciation that I am here, and I do not take it lightly. So I truly thank you. This is a stupendous day. God is so good and I give him all honor and praise for allowing me to be here with you today.
I always like to ask myself interesting questions. And as I was going over my notes for today’s speech last night, I stopped and thought to myself, “wow.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in 1929 and was assassinated in 1968, at the age of 39. And we are 43-44 years later and we still to this day, make sure to stop…pause…and celebrate his life. So I asked myself, “Why?” “What was so different?” “What was so unique about this individual that every year we make sure to stop…pause…and celebrate his life?” I continued to roll this over in my head.
Today’s theme is Great Challenge. Great Change. I think it’s as fitting a theme today as it was when Dr. King was alive. So I start with words from Dr. King:
“It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.”
He goes on to say:
“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
I think a lot of us today view life through a single lens; our own. We see our daily decisions and actions as ones that shape our own path, at the most possibly affecting family and friends. That’s as far as some of us go. We’re closed off. Our vision is too narrow. It’s too personal. It’s too focused on our own individual destiny.
I call it self-dependence. And it’s not the thinking that I depend on myself, it’s the thinking that no one is depending on me.
So the visions we have. The dreams that wake us up at night. We internalize those dreams, seeing them through the lens of self. I’m too old. I don’t have enough time. It’s not my season. What about my kids? I don’t have my degree. I don’t have any money. And we rationally kill what’s irrational. It’s a dream. You can’t touch it. But we are mistaken.
We are mistaken that the visions we had, the dreams that woke us up at night, the things we saw…were for us. Our own path. We thought that at the most it would possibly affect family and friends.
Dr. King had a dream too:
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
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.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
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, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and 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.”
But what if Dr. King never told us his dream?
I think we focus on “I” entirely too much. How “I” feel? How am “I” going to make it? How could “I” do that?
I believe sometimes we have an inability to interpret why we had the vision. Why we were awoken with the dream. Why we saw what we saw.
Could it be that you were given what you were given because someone else did not have the capacity or capability to see?
I came to the University of Michigan with one goal: make the basketball team. First year – didn’t make it. Second year – didn’t make it. Third year – finally made it. I was a self-dependent thinker as well. I’m sure you can find an interview somewhere where I say something like, “This experience will stick with me for the rest of my life. I’ll be able to approach any situation knowing that if I’m persistent and continue to work hard, I can reach any goal.” That’s nice. But I was mistaken.
I jumped and did not realize there was a line of people standing behind me. Someone waiting to hear my story to build their own faith.
We have run out of choices. We don’t have a choice anymore. With the internet and the ability for us to instantly communicate with people from around the world. With our ability in this day and age, to come together like never before. There are no more excuses. That vision you have is not for you. That dream you have is not for you. Yes, you will be the reason it’s accomplished, however, it’s not about you. There are thousands of people, millions of people, waiting to be touched by your vision, waiting to be touched by your dream and you don’t even know it. Or them.
What if Oprah didn’t jump? Would you know Dr. Phil? Would you know Carol’s Daughter? Oprah’s vision wasn’t for her. It was for the millions of people she would touch.
But what if she hadn’t jumped? What if she said: I’m black. I’m a woman. There’s no way.
What if you don’t jump….
I’d like to finish with a story. Two guys were talking and one of them asked the other, “Who would you miss the most if they passed away?”
The other responded, “I guess it’d have to be my parents.”
He challenged him, “Why?”
“Because they are family, because they love me, because I’ve known them all my life” the other said.
But he challenged him again. He said that wasn’t it at all. He said, “You’d miss them because they do more for you than anyone else.” Therefore, he said, “If you want people to miss you when you die, be a person that always does things for other people.”
That’s the answer to the question that I posed at the beginning. We stand here today, all over this country. We stand here today, all over this world, because Dr. King always did things for other people. That was his entire platform and life. You and I are the recipients of his generosity, his courage, his dream. Even today. That’s why we come together every year to remember.
So I leave you with this question, “Who? What? What person 30-40 years from now will sit in the seat you’re sitting in, and will benefit from your dream? Will benefit from the choice that you make here today?”