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We Must Still Dream: The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. [VIDEO]

We Must Still Dream: The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. [VIDEO]

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day today here in the US; a day when we reflect on his legacy of civil rights, of non-violent protest, of the vision articulated in his beautiful ‘I have a dream’ speech in which he spoke of brotherhood, of freedom, of equality for all.  I quote:

I say to you today, my friends, 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 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.

 

If you haven’t read the full text of King’s speech recently, I hope that you might do so, and listen to him giving the speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I get shivers down my spine when I read it, not only for his words, but because of the significance therein: Yes, we are all ‘created equal’ and we all ought to be judged by the ‘content of [our] character,’ not by the color of our skin or the scarves we wear on our heads. Or, because some of us might not be able to read King’s speech and absorb his message.

My son Charlie is one such individual. He is a teenager, on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, and only able to read a few words. I’ve shown him the video of King delivering his speech: Charlie watches for a bit (the black and white images are probably a blur to him) and then tells me ‘all done’ and walks away. He is not inclined to listen to his mother get all didactic about how King’s words and King’s actions, his insistence that we all have the right to any seat on a bus or to be served at any restaurant counter.

Like many, but not all, school children in the US, Charlie is home from school. Charlie prefers to stick to a routine, so having a Monday off is not to his liking. But I’m glad he has it off: It’s not too long ago that Charlie would not have been able to go to school at all. It was only after the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975 that public schools in the US were required to provide an education for students with disabilities.  

I’d love for Charlie to read a sentence. I do have a dream that one day he will be able to string a line of words together and read them back to us. And the reason I can keep this dream alive is ultimately because of King. 

You might wonder what special education has to do with the civil rights movement: Well, King’s push for civil rights for all, for no discrimination on the basis of ‘what’ a person is because we are all equal, helped foster individuals with disabilities to stand up for their rights. To not be shut in and shut away anymore behind the doors of their houses, but to speak up and demand their right to employment; to public transportation; to accommodations like ramps in front of buildings (so they could go inside them to work), lifts on buses (so they could get to work or just go grocery shopping on their own), to so much more.  To be able to go to school in their communities side by side with other children, of whatever race and ethnicity and religion, and learn, rather than being packed off to separate, ‘special’ schools.

Without the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Charlie would most likely be living in an institution. He would never have attended school with the kids in the neighborhood, never have played on the same playground, never have learned to ride his bike on the streets of our town. He’s be shut away, probably heavily medicated and in restraints to control aggressive behaviors instead of being taught ways to self-calm and manage himself. He might as well be living in a prison. He, and how many individuals with disabilities like him, would not be free at all.

I’ll end by quoting the end of King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech:

…….when we allow freedom to 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!”

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Photo from Paul Schutzer/Courtesy of LIFE.com; this photo has never been seen before.
“In May 1961, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King speaks to a volunteer inside a safe house in Montgomery, Alabama, that is providing temporary shelter for the Freedom Riders during the arduous trip through the Deep South. By this point in the Rides, the volunteers — young men and women, black and white — had faced brutal beatings, a fire bombing, and hospitals turning them away for medical treatment. Still, they remained determined to push into Jackson, Mississippi, with the mentoring of King and other leaders of the movement.”

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23 comments

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9:33AM PST on Jan 27, 2011

He was the greatest!!

10:48AM PST on Jan 19, 2011

The dream is beautiful but we have a long way to go.

Thank you Krisitna for reminding us of the work still to be done.

10:42AM PST on Jan 19, 2011

Inspirational and beautiful speech, that sometimes (and sadly) still applies nowadays!

8:04PM PST on Jan 18, 2011

As a white kid out in the backwoods I was in for a total culture shock when I ended up travelling through the southern states in the mid 60's. I was informed by the "authorities" of the day that blacks were not really people and I was at least smart enough (and still around now) as to have not told the fellow how insane his remarks were. I had no idea that there were states where drinking fountains and washrooms were segregated. I didn't know that I couldn't go into certain restaurants because one of the guys in the car was black. I did not know that if the black guy didn't ride in the back seat (preferably lying down) that we could be pulled over and interrogated.
Dr. King merely wanted a man or woman who had a darker skin pigmentation to have the same rights as any other individual. Kids of today have no idea of what the times were like in that day. I could not believe that individuals would treat others as such being in that situation. Dr. King had the courage of his conviction to march and speak freely in the face of oppression. This is the courage of conviction that is needed to bring his dream to reality.

7:42PM PST on Jan 18, 2011

I continue to be amazed by the things said by Dr. King.

5:09PM PST on Jan 18, 2011

Being African American I had great expectations. But, alas, most of them have been dashed against still locked doors. Our young children don't have a clue, our teens don't seem to care and the adults under 60 (if they're employed) don't care either. I have talked to all age groups in the past year and they know every little about the civil rights movement and Dr. King. "It's just a holiday", the teens say, "another day out of school". I think they should be made to attend school and watch the video of his speech and footage of the civil rights movement.
But I would probably be voted down by the parents.

5:08PM PST on Jan 18, 2011

Have you heard that saying--Chinese, I think--that one generation plants the seed, but the next one enjoys the shade? Well, Martin Luther King had his dream, but it's up to us to get it going for ours and subsequent generations.

4:00PM PST on Jan 18, 2011

It should also be remembered that MLK was not a one trick pony...he was strongly speaking out against the Vietnam war.

That was when 'the powers that be' drew the line.

Regards...

11:32AM PST on Jan 18, 2011

Whether we like it or not, there are those who would like to take those dreams away and set us back to being a third world country. We have to be strong, hold our heads up, believe in the dream, and keep pushing onward

10:20AM PST on Jan 18, 2011

Yes we must all get inspired by his words whenever we think nothing will change and nothing can be done.........it can!

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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