Fifty years ago today, one of the greatest people to live during my lifetime died. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, gunned down the night after preaching what became his final sermon in Memphis, Tennessee, in the USA. A man who changed the face of a nation, possibly the world. A man who though flawed (which of us isn’t?) had a dream; a dream that struggles on in a still broken land.
As we remember Dr. King’s dream, his life, and his legacy, we are reminded that he dedicated himself to gaining equality for the disadvantaged, to speaking out for those who were ignored and overlooked, to defending those who were badly treated and abused, to being one of the greatest social activists of all time, peacefully campaigning to bring about civil rights for all.
In probably his most well-known speech, Dr. King said these words; “I have a dream… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character… I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and 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’ speech, Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, 28thAugust 1963)
For Dr. King, his dream was for everyone, of every colour, to live together as one people, equal in every way…“that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” It is a glorious dream, a dream that inspired a generation, although a dream that still has a long way to go before it is truly realised.
I too have a dream, it is a dream that has its roots in the same place as Dr. King’s; a dream of equality, of social justice, of civil rights for all. I have a dream that my son will one day live in a nation where he will not be judged by his disability, but by the positive impact he and his life makes, by his loving character. I have a dream that one day, children with additional needs and disabilities will join hands with many other children as accepted and loved sisters and brothers.
I have a dream that this nation of ours, including our churches, our synagogues, our mosques and our temples; our government bodies, institutions and schools; and all of our society, will one day not just declare that all are created equal, but wholly demonstrate it in their actions and attitudes. And my dream is that this day will come soon… for this day is long overdue.
Again, the words of Dr. King echo down the years to challenge us in a different way as we consider our response to how, as a nation, and as peoples of faith, we have treated our brothers and sisters with additional needs or disabilities; “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time… Social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals. And without their hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so, we must help time. We must realise that the time is always right to do right.” (‘The Other America’ speech, Stanford University, 14thApril 1967)
So much wrong has been done, and continues to be done, towards children, young people, and adults with additional needs or disabilities across our society, including in our government bodies and institutions and in our faith communities. There is so much that still needs to change, so much that still needs to be done.
But Dr. King’s great ‘Dream’ speech also includes hope, it includes faith, it includes encouragement for us all today as we strive together to bring equality and social justice for all… “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.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
What is freedom like for everyone who has additional needs or disabilities? What is that hope, that dream? They are not dissimilar to the hopes and dreams of black America in the 1960’s; that everyone is considered equal, can have the same opportunities, the same rights, as anyone else; are treated without prejudice, and can live life in all its fullness…
I have that dream, I hope you do too, so let’s make that dream a reality together shall we?
4th April 2018, updated 3rd May 2019
Image rights: © Authors own (header) © Time Magazine (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr)
Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches © The Estate of Martin Luther King Jr.