Monday Matters: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream"

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and while we generally use the third Monday of January to celebrate the changes Martin Luther King Jr brought to life in the U.S., it also happens to be his birthday today. So it's understandable that as I thought about what to write today, I just kept hearing the echo of his famous words in my mind.

"I have a dream." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Maybe it's just that I myself am a dreamer - a girl with her feet on the ground but her head still floating in the clouds - but this speech has always meant so much more to me than skin color. It has always brought to mind my own fervent wish for not only the chance to succeed, but the desire to move forward from wherever I am - because I believe success means nothing without the courage to strive for it despite the risks, and I believe that regardless of race, color, disability, religion, politics, or any of the other categories we use to separate ourselves from each other, the gift of American citizenship is useless if we don't stand up and accept it.

I am not a black woman, but I have suffered my own share of disadvantages, well-meaning rudeness, and purposeful but undeserved judgement of who I am, where I come from, what my potential is, and what I deserve from this life - not only because of where my life began and the history of the parents who started it, but also because of the size of my body, the clothing or hairstyles I chose, the music I listened to ... and yes, even the color of my skin.

But none of those things should matter at all, because the things that DESCRIBE me (mother, woman, writer, plus-size, short, white, etc) do not DEFINE me - and no matter what they are, yours don't have to either.

"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." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
These days, we've come a little farther in that most of us include women in this sentiment as well - taking King's dream of ending racial discrimination and continuing to apply the beauty of his idea to things like gender equality in the workplace. Many also apply this concept to more fluid ideas as well, such as sexual orientation ... and yet, we still have so far left to go, not only because there are so many of us who still see others as being greater or lesser than ourselves, but because we also tend to see ourselves as being greater or lesser than others.

We preach equality all the time, and a great many of us are honestly pursuing a world where every human matters just as much as every other human - and yet, as we struggle to reach across the great barriers of race and gender, disability, religion, nationality, economic status, and education, we often forget the most basic meaning of what it is for two things (or two humans) to be weighed as equals, with neither striving to be better, to have more, or to take advantage of extra breaks or privileges.

And I don't mean to imply that certain privilege doesn't exist in our society, or that all the races and socioeconomic statuses are as balanced as they should be. But I think Martin Luther King would remind us that privilege isn't based on race any more than a lack of privilege would be. For every man (and woman) to truly be equal, we must first acknowledge that our capacity for and risk of hardship and challenge are not decided by the color of our skin any more than they are decided by the type of our blood.

"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." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Brotherhood. King wanted the varied races of humanity to live among each other as brothers. As family. Bridging the barriers of color and culture and style with the sheer unadulterated power of the kinds of love and acceptance that guarantee each of us the right to compassionate understanding, and mercy, and grace.

As a mother, I strive every day to teach my children that they don't have to be "white" girls. That they don't go to school with "black" girls. Not in the sense that their skin color makes them remarkably different from the other kids - because it doesn't. I mean sure, some kids are more white, some more brown, some more yellow or olive-toned. But each child, regardless of his or her color, is still nothing more than a child. A little person making their way under the hopefully strong guidance of a parent who is trying as hard as I am to show the next generation that we don't have to see color in that way anymore. I have taught my daughters that skin color is nothing more than a descriptive term, nothing more significant than eye color, hair color, and whether or not a person has freckles. Fat, muscular, thin, tall, short. Black, white, brown, yellow, olive. Red.

In my home, description is not a separator - because the best way to honor King's wisdom is to live it. To look beyond barriers in search of brotherhood.

"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." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Don't we all want this? Doesn't every parent want this - for their children to be given a fair chance, an education, and the opportunity to chase their dreams?

The truth is, every child will not achieve their dreams. Every child will not always apply themselves in school, will not always get good grades, will not always steer clear of self-destruction. But every child is given the opportunity to strive and to try - to do their homework and pay attention in class, to apply for college if they're interested, or for jobs if they aren't. Regardless of where they start out, every child is given the chance to try - and even if they start out at rock bottom (like I did), regardless of their beginning they do (in general) have the chance to climb rung by rung up the economic ladder and reach for their own version of the American Dream, without the burdens of discrimination and prejudice.

I know this is the very deepest and most heartfelt dream in my own spirit as well. One of my children has already experienced prejudicial judgement based on her race, and the other has been teased and bullied over economic status. These are not problems belonging solely to one race or class of people - and these problems will never end if we don't make the effort to end them, seeking brotherhood and sameness rather than enmity and division.

"And 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!'” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I like to think that somewhere deep inside each of us, the remnant of King's dream remains - the longing to feel equal, to be seen as equal, to be treated as equal. Not as a white man or as a black man ... but most simply as nothing more than a man - or woman, of course - but to be seen and appreciated as human.

What do you think of how our society has moved forward to Dr. King's legacy - and more importantly, how are you using his wisdom to guide your own life? What are you doing every day to become part of the solution he wanted so much, not only for his own people but for all people as brotherhood of humanity?

Don't forget, this BLOGuary is a partnership! David Elliott from the Single Dad's Guide to Life has been partnering with me this month to counter and balance my single mom perspective with the single dad side of everything from movies and music to food, fun, and the future. Be sure to check out David's most recent post too - he shared a list of his favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, leaving King's words to stand beautiful and strong on their own.

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