As I write this, today (4th April 2018) is the 50th anniversary of the death of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Another anniversary we’d like not to be marking but one, especially given the prevailing political culture in many parts of the world, which needs to be remembered and the legacy of which must not be lost.
For many Martin Luther King’s death was more than simply the death of a valued and treasured friend, leader and colleague; he embodied a dream which was, in the words of his friend Congressman John Lewis “it felt like something died in all of us”
Dr King’s prophetic “I have a dream” speech has the capacity still to take us to the top of a metaphorical mountain and see a different kind of world; especially this section;
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
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!”
The original text did not include this section though he had used the metaphor on several other occasions previously. It’s understood one of those standing beside him said “tell them about the dream Martin” and he left his prepared text, an extraordinary thing to do given the numbers in the crowd and the intensity of the occasion – yet the words flowed from not his mouth but his heart and soul; painting a picture of a radically different, so far away and yet too which seemed yet so plausible, possible and morally and ethically right.
Sadly, though huge progress has been made, there is no doubt that his dream is not yet fully realised, not just in America but across the globe. Racism; people being abused and rejected, judged and suffering because their ethnicity, their skin colour, their heritage or their racial origins, is still rife in every walk of life and every part of the world
But Martin Luther King did not die in vain. Great things have happened because of his sacrifice and the sacrifice of many like him. There is much to do but there is also much which has been done.
And in many ways, one of his greatest legacies was to remind us to dream the impossible; to be utterly ambitious about the bringing of justice and the making of flourishing lives.
I spent time recently with someone who is in recovery. Their dream was to just “finish something”. “My life is chaotic – that what addiction does to you – so nothing ever gets finished”. Last week they finished our community rehab course – twelve weeks where though suture, support, refection and a lot of tears and laughter they now believe in themselves as never has before. The road ahead is still going to be tough. She knows there will be times she will stumble; but we’ll be there for her, as will her fellow course members and the many others who travel similar journeys and use the recovery hub to do so. Her dream will sometime seem but memory or a fading image, but other days it will seem like a new dawn and a new life where she can truly flourish.
At the end of his famous speech Martin Luther King said
“when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
I saw the same freedom in that graduation ceremony in Bathgate last week. The issues were very different, the tough realities from where people had journeyed were not in any way the same at the reality Martin Luther King experienced – yet the dream was the same – freedom to be, freedom to flourish, freedom to love and be loved for who we are. For that is the dream which gives us all hope and meaning whatever our reality.
4 April 2018