The summer before I returned to graduate school, I had the great privilege of teaching at a leadership camp. I spent the week with a group of 15 middle school students traveling around Washington, DC, Virginia, and West Virginia helping them learn about leadership, our political system, and freedom. It was an amazing week filled with memorable experiences; however, my most memorable moment came at the end of the week. The topics of the day were the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. The lessons that day were particularly poignant as the DOMA ruling had just taken place that morning. I was instructed not to discuss it with my students (I think the camp was afraid of political and religious leanings), but I couldn’t help myself. How can you be in DC, discussing civil rights and freedom with children, on the exact morning of DOMA and not discuss it? So, I
defied authority and went for it.
We had a rich conversation about equality and freedom without any sort of religious or political leaning. I was so proud of my students. We discussed the freedom which America offers its citizens and were able to reflect on just how far we have come in 50 years (and just how far we still have to go). At the end of it all, I took my group to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We stood on the spot where MLK gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech (pictured above). Each of my students were given a copy of the speech. They were instructed to look out at the mall and picture it filled with people. Not an inch of standing space available. They pictured themselves back in a time when basic rights were unavailable to certain subsets of individuals based on how they looked or what they believed in. They imagined what it would be like if they were one of those people. Someone who has the same thoughts, feelings, emotions, hopes, dreams, desires, etc. as everyone else, but who was denied the expression of these basic human tendencies as a result of misunderstanding and prejudice. Then, they took turns reading stanzas of the speech out loud, reflecting all the while on the power of the human spirit. On how far we have come as a nation. They reflected on the power of dreaming, on their own unique dreams, and on the urgent need for dreams to persist throughout ones life. On the necessity for dreams to be put into action and on the corresponding courage required. Finally, they reflected on the need to work together and rely on one another to actualize their dreams and affect lasting change in our world. It was powerful and there was not a dry eye in sight at the end of the exercise.
I left camp that week feeling utterly exhausted following a week of late nights and early mornings. I also left entirely inspired and excited for our future. I still carry this excitement with me. It is easy to look out at the world, with all of its sorrow, hatred, violence, and suffering, and become discouraged. It is at times like this when the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes increasingly important. We all have a dream. Dreams for how we can improve our own lives and the lives of those around us. There is no right or wrong dream, as long as you are dreaming. I encourage you to reflect on your own, unique dreams today and on steps you might take towards actualizing them. What can you bring to the day that moves you closer to where you want to be? What can you bring to the day that helps move others closer to where you want the world to be? I assure you that if we approached each day with this mentality, our world would be a much more peaceful place.
In the spirit of MLK, I will leave you with a video clip of his iconic speech. I hope you have an amazing week and may you never stop dreaming!