Never underestimate the power of a dream. Seeds are sown and dreams grown in the moments that seem the most mundane. We don’t always choose what we remember or what becomes important or what shapes us as people. Random moments are frozen like black and white stills and tilled deep into memory. And then they become part of who we are.
A moment: It is August of 1963 in Williamsburg, Virginia. I am eight years old and I am getting ready to start the third grade. We have already made the trip to Casey’s department store and my closet smells like brand new shoes. My parents are watching something on television. First one, then the other, tells me to sit down and watch with them. I sit, but I am restless. The black and white screen flickers news-like seriousness. I am thinking about riding my bike to the pool for a last chance to earn the red ankle tag that will allow me to swim in the deep end even when my parents aren’t there.
I didn’t want to watch the news. I wasn’t interested in current events. And I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in the world around me. And yet, it would be a moment that that would shape my life.
I didn’t know the man who was giving the speech, but he said he had four little children… just like our family. The man had a dream and my parents had tears in their eyes. The moment was important enough that they wanted me to be a part of it. They wanted the dream to be a part of me. School started and I went back to my all-white school. The speech that had been so important to my parents was never mentioned. Silence.
This past Friday (Lee Jackson Day in Virginia) I taught my third graders about the man with the dream. They wanted to know if I was living back then (Yes). They wanted to know if Room 204 had been white or black during segregation (White).
This dream cannot be taught with silence. Silence is an easy consort to idle hatred and indifference — the very enemies of the dream. This dream can only be taught with conversation. A girl wrote me a note after the conversation: “Dream work is team work.” I love that and it’s true.
I don’t know if my students will remember a word of what I taught them on Friday. I hope they will remember that they had a teacher who knew it was important to talk about the man with the dream. What I really want them to know is this: Bold and courageous love is the dream. Bold and courageous love is the message. Bold and courageous love made a difference. Bold and courageous love was the man: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
The poet Tawnya Pettiford-Wates came to our church today and began her poem with a piercing scream. She is tired of the dream. She demands we move to vision.
It could be said that as a stuffed and mounted deer is no deer, so a stuffed and mounted dream is no dream.
The poet’s rant is neither original nor rightly related to Annie’s beautiful reflection. Witness the following poem written more than 15 years ago:
Now that he is safely dead
Let us praise him
build monuments to his glory
sing hosannas to his name.
Dead men make such convenient heroes:
They cannot rise to challenge the images
we would fashion from their lives.
And besides, it is easier to build monuments
than to make a better world.
–Carl Wendell Hines
But Annie… is talking about how dreams, vision, and hope take shape in the heart of a child using the stuff of history and memory. Thank you Annie, for teaching children about Martin Luther King, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Cesar Chavez. You are inspiring us all to work to make the world a better place!
As beautiful as Annie’s message are the comments made by the children in her class and the members of her community of which I am proud to be one. Annie and I often discuss, dissect, and try to find “soulutions” to this problem of rascism in Richmond and the world. Whatever path is taken – moving past the dream to implimentation or enlightening those who have not been introduced to conversation, she’s right ‘bold and courageous love’ is the way to the light! Let our little lights shine. P.S. you KNOW I love the Langston Hughes poem.
Once again, beautiful friend, thank you for sharing your light and for inspiring others to live their own bold and courageous love. In a piece I was writing recently, I was channeling MLK–how would he deliver this line? And my colleague challenged me on the loftiness of my language and gently reminded me that i’m not mlk– to which i responded, definitley not– but I have to believe that ALL of us have the capacity for that kind of greatness–it’s our willingness to dream it–that’s where most humans get stuck. Thank you annie, for reminding us to dream and giving us permission to spread our bold and courageous love in the world.
The statement you learn something new everyday, fits how I feel right now. The layout of the story is great and I espically loved the description of Martin Luther King Jr. I am convienced you can write in your sleep.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a very powerful, motivational leader. The I have a dream speech was one of the most influential speeches of our time. His strength and dedication really made a significant impact in America. Every teacher should take the time to explain the importance of Dr. King’s speech. His legacy continues to live on in our schools, homes, churches, etc. I too agree that “Dream work is team work”. America has come a long way in just the last 50 years. Things have changed and will continue to change. Diversity is all around us. You incorporated well in your writing your thoughts of the speech when you were younger to now. How teaching the speech gives you more insight to the meaning. Great writing!
The day you mentioned in your story above reminds me of the day “the wall” came down in Germany. I saw it happen very late at night on television. At the time, I didn’t know why a wall coming down was so important. Today, I am glad I witnessed that moment in history like you did with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I saw people tearing the wall apart. I saw people join hands and cry because now they were not separated from their loved ones by a superficial wall. I saw people laughing and singing. Germany wasn’t separated anymore…it was one.
Today, a piece of “the wall” is in the Ronald Reagan building in Washington, D.C. I have gone there to see and touch a piece of “the wall” that was brought down. When I saw it in person and touched it’s smooth surface, I knew that progress had been made in the world.