Today is the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most influential civil rights activists in history. He is known for his tremendous vision, unbelievable bravery and powerful speeches. He was, also, a man, who had challenges, heartbreak, and moments of doubt.
Did you know that his most famous speech, the “I have a dream” speech just about fell flat? In front of a crowd of a quarter million people at the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. King seemed to struggle a bit with his speech. It wasn’t flowing. At one point he looked up from his notes and said:
“Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”
The people on the platform with him knew he had gone off his prepared remarks, and that’s when Mahalia Jackson, a renowned gospel singer, shouted to him: “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!”
Dr. King pivoted, found the fire within, and proclaimed:
“I say to you today, my friends — and 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, 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 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.
I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
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.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
And with that, Dr. King delivered one of the most powerful and famous speeches in American history. It would have been a whole different story had he stayed in the nightmare.
My prayer today is that this country will one day live up to Dr. King’s dream, that it will become not only our collective dream but also the reality on the ground.
And I also pray that each and every one of you reading this, no matter the struggle you may be facing, no matter the hardship, will find the courage to pivot from doubt and despair and take hold, once again, of your dreams. Powerful dreams are what change our lives and our world.