I have a dream.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Every year since coming back to Duluth in 2005, I have walked in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, unless I have been out of town. It isn’t always easy. It is January in Duluth, after all. I was thinking this year might be mild as January was pretty mild this year, until the week of January 18. January cold returned, though it was not as brutally cold this year as some. However, though it is cold, we don’t have to walk as high-pressure fire hoses are being sprayed at us, or dogs barking and biting at us. There are no jeering crowds shouting racial epithets, only a number of people giving thumbs up or cheering from office building windows or the skywalk.
One of the serendipitous delights of this year’s march was that I had the privilege of walking while sharing a banner with Sha’rya. I had not met Sha’rya before. She was at the march with her aunt and sister.
As I walked with Sha’rya and our banner, which read “Do To Us What You Will, We Will Still Love You,” I was thinking about the United States and race. In my lifetime, progress has been made. Laws segregating blacks and whites have fallen. Banking practices which segregated neighborhoods have been changed. Racial epithets, though they have not disappeared, are frequently held in disdain. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is a national holiday, and his “I Have a Dream” speech is considered one of the landmark oratories in American history.
Progress has been made, but problems persist, and at times we digress rather than progress. Voting rights which people struggled for are being eroded in some places. Poverty remains persistently high among people of color. Incarceration rates for African-Americans are significantly higher than among other populations. The relationship between law enforcement and people of color is often strained and in need of repair. King’s dream is held up as a wonderful ideal. His accompanying social critique, including his analysis of the damage done by our failures to live up to the dream, is not often grappled with.
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed –
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
There is work to do, so we continue to march. I want the world to be a different place for Sha’rya as she grows. I want it to be a better place, a safe place, a place where she can flourish, a place with no artificial barriers are put in her way because of her heritage. I think of the words of a spiritual: Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around. Keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’ gonna build a brand new world.
With Faith and With Feathers,