"I Have a Dream" speech - Powerful Words, Useful for Today

Earlier this week, I watched the eloquent and powerful "I Have a Dream" speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr, a baptist minister in 1963. At least once a year, I put everything aside for 20 minutes and enjoy arguably the greatest speech ever given. Dr. King's words inspired me the first time I heard them and this time was no exception. With the challenging economic difficulties in America and throughout the world, his words can serve as comfort and inspiration for all Americans along with the global community to rise up with positivity, help others and be pro-active forces both domestically and internationally.

For those who have not heard the speech, it focused on the Negro's (African-American today) shameful and tragic plight in a 1963 America. You can watch the speech at the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk

Here's what Rev. King said in the beginning of his famous talk:

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. Now is the time.

Dr. King pursued justice for the Negro in the 1950's and the 1960's with full force yet always preached non-violence as the way to go about it. He was relentless in bringing about change for the Negro and was fearless. I love the words "Now is the time" above and find them useful for our difficulties today.

The questions we can ask ourselves - "What are we doing to help those people suffering in our community, families or other countries? If this crises hasn't affected you personally, have you offered a spiritual or guiding hand to those it has affected? If it has affected you, are you just wallowing in misery or being positive and eager to get back on your feet? If you have a thriving corporation, how have you utilized your good fortune to help those in need? It can be a small or big action but we all must do something! Now is the time.

Even in well to do Sweden, there are plenty of people in need. I heard a wonderful story about a friend who was in need of money as his cash earning prospects were bleak and bills were due. A man gave him 500 kronor (71 dollars) and he was so appreciative. The friend was surprised at the man's generosity. Little things sometimes mean a lot.

With the holidays right around the corner, "Now is the time" to provide food for someone who needs it, give a gift to a child who might not get one or simply listen to someone who needs a comforting ear. The possibilities of helping are endless although the effort must be made.

President Barack Obama appears to have the "Now is the time" attitude with his ambitious domestic goals as well as international goodwill although the REAL need is to help those 15 million Americans who are jobless. Without putting people back to work, it's hard to imagine how America can improve its bleak condition anytime soon. If you aren't aware of the awful unemployment figures in America, please read Bob Herbert's insightful article at the link below. Here's a numbing paragraph:

While the data mavens were talking about green shoots in September, employers in the real world were letting another 263,000 of their workers go, bringing the jobless rate to 9.8 percent, the highest in more than a quarter of a century. It would have been higher still but 571,000 people dropped out of the labor market. They’re jobless but not counted as unemployed. The number of people officially unemployed — 15.1 million — is, as The Wall Street Journal noted, greater than the population of 46 of the 50 states. (From column titled "Does Obama Get it")


It's important to remember that there were not only a sea of black faces listening to Dr. King on that marvelous day in 1963 - many white people were also there in support of the movement.

Rev. King went on to say this:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

Rev. King embraced white people who cared about the cause and openly called for the Negro not to distrust them as he knew the Negro could not "walk alone". Similarly, President Obama has made it crystal clear that we must reach out to our brothers and sisters around the world as the friendship, support and trust of the people outside of America is essential to re-building America and keeping it strong. Our former President (#43), alienated much of the world and the American reputation suffered immensely because of his actions and inaction. I am grateful for Obama as he enhanced our brand seemingly overnight and that is good for the entire world. I wrote about our brand in my article "The American Brand is Back". The link is below.


More questions to ask ourselves regarding reaching out internationally:

Do you have international friends? If not, why not? If your circle is made up entirely of friends who you grew up with, can you really learn about the world outside of your comfort zone?

Have you travelled outside of your country? I realize that it is easier for people here in Europe to do so yet there is no excuse for the lack of American travel in foreign countries. Less than 25% of Americans have passports. That is a startlingly statistic and must improve if we are going to to show that we care about the rest of the world. I know educated and financially sound Americans who have never left the borders!

Do you take the opportunity to talk with people from different backgrounds or countries when possible? Whenever I ride in a cab in Sweden, I make it a point to talk to the taxi driver (who are mainly immigrants) even when I sometimes don't feel like doing so. Every time, the conversation is stimulating and I learn so much about their birth countries and their experiences in Sweden. I also make it a point to ask every driver if Swedish people talk to them and 95% of the time, the answer is no. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and engage with unknown people once in a while as you may be pleasantly surprised with the conversation that ensues.

I never thought I would see someone in my lifetime who had the chance to be a great American and make a profound impact like Martin Luther King. President Obama has that chance as he has already inspired millions and created hope throughout the world in a way no one could have imagined. He has the tools - charisma, intellect, compassion, oratory skills, and passion although the ultimate judgement will be based upon whether he has the relentless focus and doggedness like Dr. King to follow through on his convictions.

Rev. King never backed down and was a driving force to bring about change for the Negro; his movement played a major role in prompting the 1964 Civil Rights Act. My life, the lives of people of color and America in general would be vastly different today if not for the bold actions of Martin Luther King. He sacrificed his own life in pursuit of justice.

President Obama vowed to make America strong again and embrace our neighbors around the world. He has had an impressive start with education in America and it seems as though a health-care bill will be passed in Congress. Those are two key elements for rebuilding America along with the need for serious action on our climate. In addition, his speech in Cairo to the Muslim world spoke volumes about his passion for international inclusion. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are complicated and not easy to manage although they must be handled appropriately so they don't take the focus off of the horrendous domestic issues in America.

The big test for Obama is getting the millions of unemployed Americans back to work and I have not seen much evidence of a coherent plan to make that happen. That is a troubling sign especially for our young people. America cannot be strong again or great again if our eager citizens can't cash a paycheck.

Paul Krugman's column on the subject of high employment in America is very useful to read. A paragraph is below:

Deficit hawks like to complain that today’s young people will end up having to pay higher taxes to service the debt we’re running up right now. But anyone who really cared about the prospects of young Americans would be pushing for much more job creation, since the burden of high unemployment falls disproportionately on young workers — and those who enter the work force in years of high unemployment suffer permanent career damage, never catching up with those who graduated in better times.
(From column titled "Too Little of a Good Thing")


Mr. President, Now is the Time.

Fellow Americans, Now is the Time.

My brothers and sisters around the world, Now is the Time.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Stockholm in January 2007 - Gswede took a 2 hour walk after after a magnificent overnight snowfall

1 comment:

Gary Baker said...

Great reading, George!

Those of us who were kids in the waning days of Dr. King's life couldn't fully appreciate the wisdom of his words, the impact they would have, nor the size of the mountain that he climbed. What I now know, though, is that he not only climbed that mountain, but moved it.

It wasn't until I moved to Stockholm in 1999 -- having previously had an opportunity to work in community development throughout the '90s in poor neighborhoods of San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and Los Angeles -- that I (re-?)learned that Dr. King had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, well before much of America could understand the magnitude of his accomplishments.

In 2009, many question the legitimacy of this year's Peace Prize winner. I have little doubt, however, that history will honor Barack Obama for that one gift he has given to people of all colors, all faiths and numerous nations: Hope, something which all-too-few leaders these days are capable of inspiring, yet which is absolutely one of the key elements to moving mountains.

Thanks for writing, George, you've inspired me!