Do You Have A Dream?

28 Aug 2014

August 28th marks the 51st anniversary of the landmark civil rights march on Washington, where Martin Luther King delivered his most remembered speech, “I have a dream.”

I’ve become fairly familiar with the famous speech in recent years, playing it for my community college students as a brilliant and well-delivered example of a speech (and to inspire them to something bigger than themselves). If you haven’t seen it in awhile, I encourage you to watch it online:

On that sunny 1963 day, thousands of Americans converged on Washington D.C. to march for civil rights—equal opportunities for all Americans. This followed more than 1300 protest that had already taken place in other locations.*

My friend Mike Miller was there, having ridden on a bus he organized from Mississippi. He said the excitement [of the dream] was palpable, as was a little fear of what opponents might do. There was power in the speeches and the crowd of more than 200,000. “We joined a mass of people larger than anyone had ever been part of,” he told me.

The crowd in Washington was there to resist the status quo. The status quo included legalized and rigid racial discrimination, a tiered class systems that preferred some at the expense of others, corrupt justice, voting discrimination, and a pecking order that gave part of the population the worst schools, the lowest jobs and the crummiest places to live. Even as a white person I experienced “red lining” in the section of the city where I lived; it was predetermined by people in power in smoke-filled backrooms to be “the black part of town.” And it happened.

The status quo is comfortable. But world-changers don’t go with the status quo.

As Ingrid Bergman’s missionary character, Gladys Aylward, said in the 1958 film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, “You have to interfere with what is wrong if you hope to make it right.”

Martin Luther King began his speech by following his notes, but then his passion kicked in and so did his improvisation. According to Clarence Jones, King’s lawyer, speechwriter and confidant, the words “I have a dream” were not even written into the speech.** The words came as King got fired up and spoke from his heart. It could only come out of his mouth if it was in his heart.

In an 18-minute speech delivered at a TED (Technology, Entertainment. Design) event in 2010, Nancy Durante started with the line, “You have the power to change the world.” She then went on to compare the structure and similarities of King’s, “I have a dream,” speech with Steve Job’s 2007 iPhone launch.

Both were masters at describing and contrasting WHAT WAS with WHAT COULD BE.

King talked of a world where people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. “I have a dream,” he kept repeating.

In his iPhone launch, Jobs described innovations that would revolutionize our lives. He quoted a famous Wayne Gretzky saying, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it’s been.” That is how Jobs lived his life.

I just finished a book by Seth Godin titled, Tribes: We need you to lead us. Godin talked about two kinds of people: those who maintain the status quo, and heretics.

Those who maintain the status quo are satisfied with how things are, or else they are complacent or too lazy to challenge what is.

Heretics are those who imagine something different. They are visionaries, leaders, innovators.

Think about some heretics you may know by name: Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Jesus, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King.

Heretics have guts.

In an interview series with National Public Radio this week, Jones said all that for years, all the phone conversations between himself and Dr. King were recorded by the FBI (the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)! King had been named by the government as the most dangerous Negro in America.*** Ouch!

We can learn some lessons from King and Jobs (and other heretics); here is some food for thought:

–       You have to have a vision. The bible says, “Without a vision the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18). If you can say, like the famous line in Monty Python, “I’m not dead yet,” you better have vision or get it back soon. You won’t live forever, you know. You were made to do more than suck oxygen!

–       You have to see beyond yourself. There is a whole world out there—a world of problems and challenges—a world that needs you.

–       You have to believe in yourself, your followers and your vision. You have ideas worth sharing. You have things to offer the world that no one else can bring.

–       You have to be able to communicate your vision; that’s what I tell my communication students. If you want to change the world, or change your self, or change your family, or change your neighborhood, you have to be able to articulate yourself. Neither King nor Jobs would have changed anything if they had not been able to share their vision and passion, and motivate others.

–       You have to approach life with intellect and passion. Pure brainiacs are boring; the overly emotional are drama queens. We’re meant to be both: brains and heart. You have to share both.

As you reflect on the historic day that occurred 51 years ago, consider what God, your family and friends, and the world need of you. Will you be a heretic?


* Whiting, S. & May, M. August 26, 2013. Memories of King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. San Francisco Chronicle.

** Jones, C. (2012). Behind the Dream: Behind the Speech That Changed A Nation.Palgrave Macmillan; Reprint edition.

*** Clarence B. Jones: A Guiding Hand Behind ‘I Have A Dream.” August 27, 2013. National Public Radio.



Photo: Associated Press.


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