When I was in the fourth grade, I saw a video of Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time. As I was nine and we were watching it on a blurry box TV, I didn’t pay much attention to it. That was unfortunate because, as an adult, I see that so much of that speech dealt with the circumstances I should’ve been living in.
“I Have a Dream” spoke of a world that Dr. King hoped to give his children. As he gave that speech in 1963, nine year old me sitting in a 1995 classroom should’ve also inherited that world.
And I would’ve inherited that world if Dr. King’s dreams had come true.
Looking at the world we currently live in, however, I’m certain that we who seek justice still have some work to do.
Dr. King dreamed 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.’” Has that day come yet? Not exactly.
While it is true that there are no longer “whites only” signs hanging in windows or separate doors and water fountains, those things have been replaced with other signs of inequality. Today, we have “This is America! Speak English!” signs in restaurant windows. We have LGBTQ people being fired or denied housing simply for being LGBTQ people (many of whom also have to face the compounded issue of racism).
We still have people being harassed by civilians and police alike because they’re wearing the “wrong clothing” or the “wrong skin” in the “wrong neighborhood.”
We may be better off than we were 50 years ago, but we are still far from recognizing that all people are created equal.
Dr. King dreamed that “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.” This definitely hasn’t happened. After all, Mississippi is one of the states whose governor has called for a halt to Syrian refugee resettlement.
Mississippi is not alone, though; twenty-nine other states, including those in the South, the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Southwest, have also asked that they not become an oasis for those fleeing injustices. As some attempt to close borders, black and Hispanic people continue to lose their lives within them, including 21 of the 24 transgender women murdered last year.
Even basic yet hard-won freedoms, like the right to marry, are still being blatantly denied in places like Kentucky and Alabama. For many in this country, there simply isn’t an oasis of freedom or justice.
Dr. King dreamed that we would reach a day in which “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Once again, we’re only part of the way there. I went to an integrated school with a magnet program, meaning that children from all over the city were bussed in to learn together. This, however, was not and is not the norm. De facto segregation is rampant in America. Housing discrimination ensures that not only do certain groups of people not intermingle, but that people of color are often relegated to poorer neighborhoods that lack resources such as proper access to healthy food, community programming, and well funded schools.
This applies not only race, but to class, a nation of origin, and, as mentioned before, sexual orientation and gender identity. Whether it’s black or white (or Asian or Hispanic or Middle Eastern), rich or poor, cis or trans, queer or straight, we as a society still struggle to join hands.
As I read over Dr. King’s speech, two words in particular give me hope: “one day.”
While he certainly had a lot of dreams, Dr. King didn’t put a deadline on them. We certainly haven’t come close to realizing all he had hoped for, but that doesn’t mean that our time is up.
After all, in my lifetime, I’ve gained the ability to marry the woman I love, be ordained in the denomination that I love, and attend many white, black, and diverse church communities without fear of my bisexuality bringing hatred or danger.
Change is always possible, even if we have to wait for it. Just as we wait for the day that Isaiah speaks of in which the wolf will lie down with the lamb and the child will play over the hole of the asp and there will be no more hurt or destruction, we wait for these dreams to come true.
More importantly, we must WORK for these dreams to come true.
We must work to build a world in which all people, regardless of what identities they hold, are seen as blessed children of God. We must work to build a world in which fear of that which is different doesn’t stop us from recognizing each other’s humanity. We must work to build a world in which we acknowledge that racial issues are LGBTQ issues and vice versa.
We must work to build a world that can see someone like myself not as a black person AND a female person AND a bisexual person, but as a full human being whose identities intersect and build upon each other. We must work to make sure discrimination, hatred, and bigotry are not excused by fear, patriotism, or especially faith.
When we do the work towards all these things, not only will we start to truly recognize Dr. King’s dreams, we’ll be one step closer to living in the ways of Christ.
Photo via flickr user Zach Frailey