Still Trying to Keep Martin’s Dream Alive         

by on August 23, 2019 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, From the Soul

By Ernie McCray

Nothing has ever resonated with me more than the “I Have a Dream” prose and poetry Martin Luther King delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on a pleasant summer day in 1963.

I was about to enter my second year of teaching and I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts about Martin and about what he had to say that day just in case any of my sixth graders were, in their youthful innocence, confused about what was being said about him throughout the country – all the demonizing of him as a womanizer and the FBI describing him as a dangerous commie, a designated “enemy of the state.”

I was eager to sit down with such young learners and set the record straight, to give them a bit of insight on the man from a black perspective. Mine.

I wanted to throw in some facts into the mix of insinuations and accusations in the air so that they could know and understand that Martin, this remarkable human being, rather than being a threat to our way of life, was devoted to making us more loving and caring as a nation.

And, particularly, at that time, he wanted our citizenry to be more sympathetic and empathetic towards the black people we had seen on TV, during our summer break, ducking police billy clubs and frantically side-stepping snarling police dogs like matadors dancing out of the way of a bull’s horns, trying to nurse their wounds as they were washed down the street with the high pressure fire-hoses used to knock them off their feet.

I wanted them to appreciate and understand that Martin implored seekers of human rights to resist such out of control savagery not through taking up arms in bitterness and revenge, but, instead, by rallying their better selves, by digging into their souls for guidance as to how to stay the course until, as Martin so eloquently vocalized, “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I wanted them to know that his dream was about the creation of a society where some day people, no matter their walk of life or their color, would break bread together as sisters and brothers, and come to sing someday that they were truly: “Free at Last!”

Free at last!

Oh, when Martin ended his deliverance that day I knew that I was going to start a new school year with a new class with a whole lot of pizazz.

So on the first day we talked about Martin and other civil rights leaders of his day and of the past.

We talked openly about race and ethnicity and sang freedom songs with vibrancy and wrote essays and poems and we left for home at the end of our first school day together feeling good about each other, feeling respected and safe, knowing that we could speak our minds in Room 22.

We had set a very nice tone for buying into Martin’s dream and we went all in and pledged to be keepers of the dream.

But I can’t help but wonder today where they stand on things considering that we are still failing miserably as a country when it comes to equality.

And I’m aware that their age group, as did mine, voted heavily for a president who spends an inordinate amount of his time laying waste to the essence of Martin’s hopeful dream, putting down people of color and women and gays as a daily routine, refusing to denounce Nazis and the KKK because they’re on his team, creating scenes of obscene horror throughout the nation in-between brief to absolutely no gun control debates, just offers of prayers and thoughts in honor of the latest victims of mass shootings and their grieving families…

Could my old charges support such a man? I’d like to think not but people move through life along different paths, and I don’t know what paths they’ve taken to form their truths or what they see as lies or what paths they’ve trod to determine who becomes their foes or their friends and allies.

I mean can they drive past a mosque without images of terrorism rising in their minds and fear widening their eyes?

Do they wince at the thought of a man marrying another guy and women acting likewise?

Do they say “All Lives Matter” when black folks march chanting “Black Lives Matter” in an effort to sensitize their fellow Americans to the lack of justice we’re still experiencing in our lives?

Are they okay with the way immigrants who show up at our southern border, desperate to lead new lives, are dehumanized?

I just simply have no way of knowing who they are today. I just happen to have fond memories of them as they were when they were eleven and I was twenty-five and I just hope they’re out there somewhere, as I am, still trying to keep Martin’s dream alive.

And if any of them still has their eyes on the prize of making his dream come true, I’m assuming they know that we still have a lot of work to do.

But doing good work was what we were known for in Room 22.

It made learning fun which is the right spirit for trying to get things done, for trying to take on the task of creating a world that’s accommodating for everyone, where the downtrodden might some day say that they are “Free at last!”

Free at last!

That’s the dream.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joni Halpern August 23, 2019 at 8:11 pm

There should be a Room 22 in all our lives, Ernie. Thanks for the memory.


Shirley Sprinkles August 29, 2019 at 5:52 am

Martin would be proud of you—as am I! Teach on, my friend!


Thomas Gayton August 29, 2019 at 3:27 pm

to repeat the tragedies of human history
as we see fellow humans flee
from war, famine and poverty
by crossing borders and a sea of misery?

Are Homosapiens committing suicide
by warming the globe with fossil fuels?

Have we overdosed on Digitals and Opioids
to be crucified on the cross of crony capitalism?
Or can we realize Martin Luther King’s Dream
and be judged by the content of our character
and not by the color of our skin?


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