And so, today, on these iconic, monumental, sun-drenched steps we have gathered again, beneath the unwavering gaze of our forefathers and mothers, forging a bond with those early foot soldiers for peace- who came 50 years ago this week to fill a nervous city with their fixed determination to stand firmly together on the side of justice and love.
We arrive on these steps today to honor those who came to march many years ago, recognizing their strength of spirit, respecting their collective unity and marveling at the unprecedented numbers that were drawn that day to our nation’s capital. Their remarkable gathering, in the hundreds of thousands, had never before been witnessed across this embattled, torn and divided country. Their pivotal march on Washington, D.C. for Jobs and Justice – occurred during a time when this country was blatantly riddled with the searing hatred of racism and relentlessly wounded by the deadly atrocities and violence of bigots and segregationists.
And so here we are again, standing before the familiar, rock-solid gaze that penetrates from Lincoln’s pedestal, remembering all of those brave marchers who had valiantly surged forth from Selma and Birmingham, from Boston and from Cleveland, and from many elsewheres across this one nation of ours, on that wonderful, glorious day.
Many who arrived carried the fierce bruises of weaponized fire hoses and the deep bites of unleashed police dogs which remained ever-ready to wound and injure yet again in the not-so-far distance of their battered homes and divided neighborhoods. Many had endured needless, mostly illegal, de-humanizing arrests, forced into the dark, unknown violence of cramped jail cells and swarming police wagons.
Many had suffered the brutality of state-sanctioned hatred, carried angrily forth by the clubs, taunts and fists of its disquieted and racist allies.
Many had been ruthlessly beaten and stomped upon… terrified… as wounds were opened on unlikely battle grounds: bloodied bridges and downtown sandwich shops. Many had been horrified to see first-hand, the collapsed ruins of bombed-out country churches, and watched the carrying out, on blooded stretchers, of young, teenaged corpses.
They were many there whose eyes had been singed by the acrid smoke and night-time flames of crudely fashioned, front-lawn crosses, still smoldering and also yet to burn…. and they were all soon to endure the self-inflicted, bitter destruction of U streets and our streets. The wounds of generations had become seared, swiftly, onto the spirit of a still determined and rising people.
And so they stood together here, transfixed and uplifted by the passionate oratory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, carried by the songs of Marian Anderson and inspired by the determined voices and yet-to-be realized dreams of so many gifted leaders; young and old visionaries; activists, poets and priests, on that remarkable day.
And as night fell and their weary footsteps gathered for a peaceful departure; they burst forth, from off of these well-trodden steps, with tears of joy and authentic bonds — made real by a shared determination, entrusted now with prayers and plans, raised by their collective hearts, and focused minds, urged forward by their stirred voices.
And so to those souls we pay tribute and owe gratitude… our brothers and sisters, ancestors to us all- both Black and White.
On That Day, they cried and rejoiced as the deep utterances of That Dream enveloped the crowd and then quickly become a turning point in our nation’s deeply troubled history.
So we have gathered here again today, beneath that Dream’s still beckoning cry, below Lincoln’s firmly-fixed, stony stare.
And we stand together like they did, on these fateful steps, once again….resolute!
Indeed we are- and have become- the manifestation of those freedom-caller’s hopeful dream.
We are the hoped-for peace-maker’s resolution that has now…. come real. Today!
And yet today, this day, should actually be lived as every day should, for we are as challenged now, as then, to pause strongly and shake loose the simple resonance of the dream’s repeated words, and instead, to become moved in order to act upon the deepening echo of the not-easy challenges that are buried, transparently, in the 50-year old commandments of this oft-quoted speech.
Haven’t those words now become a precious and hopeful– hoped for —American Dream, those words of Rev. Dr. King?
The words of his Dream beg us now, with relentless, unyielding, loving concern and dutiful instruction, to search widely within, to see how they might yet have made a settling-place in our capable hearts, and have perhaps, by willful design or daily prayer, become a guide-post in our own precious lives, and throughout the communities we have made around us- whether we are Black or White, or neither.
Surely, we can all gather again, from across this unfailingly, oft-divided nation, and be able to bond as one, indivisible and strengthened, and hold these truths firmly to believing hearts and unyielding spirits?
Surely, our nation’s eyes can see the beauty that lies in the power of that sermon, begging us to come together as one union, so that we might once again celebrate the extraordinary gifts of its blessed messenger?
Can we not today, envision us, each and all of us, as a part of a shared circle— rich or poor, gay or straight, young or aging, Black or White….oftentimes separate and many times not equal?
Can we not still see the revolutionary love in Rev. King’s beckoning challenge for a shared justice, and cherish the timeless value of its sweet possibilities of Peace?
Our challenge today is to indeed, claim its authentic power, and make known it’s peculiar presence, in our own individual lives; through our day-day, interpersonal actions; and within our own magnificently dared dreams of love and common unity, as only we are uniquely able. Black or White or neither.
Our challenge today, is to gather communally together as one, as well as to focus separately, alone and with our own God, on our complicated paths, to manifest as real, this Dream, these words, this pledge to America, and live its precepts as our own in our deeply complex, full lives. And do so based upon our unique abilities and individual resources, as we are able.
What one person can do – another might not be able, but each can find fullness and possibility in their own way and manner, towards the common goals of justice and equality.
It may not be a universal truth- but yet it can be mostly understood, to know that a young Black teenager is tasked with, and empowered by a different set of life circumstances, challenges and strengths then a middle-aged white person – and some of the Dream that Rev. King preached that day, demands that we ask why that divide is so, and work to build…. and to live… a new reality.
But- when we are drawn together, within the circle of Rev. King’s Dream– envisioning an affirmed equality… living with mutual respect… and pursuing a sense of common decency and recognizing full dignity for all—then each of us can recognize that we are blessedly equipped with our own set of tools and perspectives… and a choice to respond. When injustice, hatred and violence manifests we can be made ready and we can be able.
Each of us shares a common destiny and a unique obligation and manner by which to respond.
This is a truth between and among many kinds of people: old and young, wealthy, or not, Black and White or neither. Each of us is capable of seeing and being this Dream realized – and each of us is able to respond in different ways. Each counts. All Matter.
For all of us then today- this American Dream… these words of Rev. Dr. King…. are indeed meaningless if they don’t prompt us, all of us, to speak up, and to speak out, to move forward, and perhaps, help another along the way, to be fully engaged, as best we can, in stopping injustices from occurring.
If we each don’t make the effort- the sometimes uncomfortable, day-day, moment-moment, monumental effort- to realize the promise of its words, and carry out the burden of its love, then why indeed, have we come to celebrate his Dream in this place today?
We must be challenged to make room for and make real- the responsibility of its prayerful, loving vision, and struggle to stand firm against discrimination, injustice, hatred, and segregation.
We must choose, somehow, to make gentle again, any inward-focused…and outer-directed violence, in every way, and at every moment.
If not- then we are as fixed and effortless in our gaze and action as a simple stone statue, un-bequeathed with honor, nor instilled with any strength of conviction.
Being in this condition is to have become a staring rock that sees no vision and moves no person or moment, and it is not a monument- it is a simple stone. And we are its mirror.
But- to witness and celebrate…to commemorate and speak… to act upon and make real… That Dream today, is to know that its potential promise is the life blood of our very nation’s soul.
Without realizing its timeless urgency of now, we will die and wither to nothing…
Or we shall continue to witness our young Black men being killed by both their peers and those crouching behind flashing blue lights…… but also by an entire community’s indifference.
Or we shall watch Black women raise their children alone, while Black fathers and brothers are routinely confined in lonely cells, in rising numbers.
And we shall continue to suffer the insidious, homegrown, hyper-nationalist, self-described “patriot” who walks treacherously among us, wearing white skin and prejudiced values, boasting ready-to-fire guns, and a savage willingness to use them, all the while crudely wrapped in a self-imposed, noisy flag, all but bled dry of America’s truly patriotic colors, which are neither all red, or white or blue, but indivisible, no differences between them.
In some kind of fantasy world, perhaps to these simple-minded and dangerous warriors, we are all just Black.. and we are all only White. But that is not the journey we have arrived from. It shouldn’t be. And it can’t be.
We are of course, different in color but not at all, of character – nor of soul, or promise or potential.
In a loving circle, we are all part of one family, one destiny, one….loving….Dream.
And because in fact, we are all part of a shared and common destiny, no so-called patriot or angered, spiteful or opportunistic person, has the right or any excuse to damage or kill another’s destiny or life, by either willful prejudice or hateful intent, nor by jealousy or deceit, be they of the same color or not.
We must know that this is the essence of Dr. King’s dream.
We are indeed a colorful, national community, enriched with our history as well as deeply challenged by it. But- choosing to stand on the side of justice and love is to Be the Dream he urged us to consider, fifty years ago, and still, today.
And so now, staring back into the eyes of that monumental moment, is to see the joyful possibility and relentless challenge of his Dream.
There is hope in that Dream realized, because we are as a mountain that can, in fact, be moved. Indeed, we were as a nation- a mountain- that was moved.
We are the glory that can be seen evident today, by those who chose to march…and then to believe …and then finally, to act.
We are in the end, always, who we have chosen to become. Our life, our faith, and our actions in it, make all the difference.
So, let this day be a day for Rev. Dr. King’s Dream to become your guide post, to settle fully in to your life, as firmly as a mammoth stone on that forever-standing mountain top that he once proclaimed.
You know the realness and the truth of his Dream that was spoken about on that day… and this one.
Perhaps, in fact, you always have. And so…with love and history… and faith…as your patient guide….realize that it is time….now…
for you……to make it real.
Todd Clark, Washington, D.C. August 24, 2013 (All rights reserved)