It’s been 35 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established. Are we any closer to his dream?
A strongly desired goal or purpose; something that fully satisfies a wish.
On August 28 of last year, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was commemorated in D.C., where 57 years earlier, over 200,000 people gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to witness history. This time, the March on Washington took place in person and online, with both a global pandemic raging in its midst and deep anguish present in the hearts of organizers and attendees. 2020 was, after all, yet another year of racial reckoning, yet another occasion to mourn and tell the truth about ongoing trauma.
This January 18, 2021, as we attempt to measure the insurmountable legacy of this person and this movement, should we dare to continue to dream? Or is an equitable future merely wishful thinking?
To honor Dr. King is to honor his words, and his words ring eerily true today despite the 57 years since he spoke them to us. He called for justice, revolt, action, and fortitude. What does that look like in 2021?
“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness, like a mighty stream.”
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Jacob Blake. George Floyd. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Dr. King didn’t live long enough to know those names, but the justice he spoke of has not been served to them, their families, or their communities since their incomprehensible and senseless murders and injuries occurred.
“The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
Mere days into this new year, we’ve already witnessed the gale force winds of revolt that shook our nation in the incitement of violence and insurrection at the Capitol. Yet, despite our weariness, we continue to look expectantly, as Dr. King told us to, for a bright day of justice to emerge.
Black and other underrepresented communities have been reaching for hope for generations. Hope is what has brought us this far and what keeps us moving forward against the strongest tides. In 2020, Black voters, historically disenfranchised and presently discriminated against, found strength in the ballot box, despite rampant voter suppression.
In this season of consciousness, what will you do to help your communities rise?
Now is the time to become active allies, educate yourself and those around you, invest your time and resources in positive change, and ensure or ask for strong equity and inclusion within your organization. Now is the time to identify, promote, and support anti-racist authors, organizations, and thought leaders. Now is the time to research what civic action you will take, what local representatives you will contact, and which policies will lead to liberation for underrepresented communities. Now is the time to act.
With the ever-present hope that a new day will dawn in a country that has never fully acknowledged the debt of slavery and oppression, Black people in America operate in a system that, at best, was never designed to be their advocate. At worst, it seeks to actively destroy a community that was forcefully brought to this country but never embraced by it. Dr. King knew this. He knew the march would not end in his lifetime, yet he dared to dream.
“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Our commitment to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and this day of remembrance is a commitment to his teaching and directives. It’s a call to take action. The community of color that he advocated for continues to hope and to persevere. Hope, for Black Americans today and for all the people Dr. King inspired, is simply the resolve to keep breathing and living in the face of a suffocating, biased reality. This year, perhaps we should all be asking what it would look like to hope as audaciously as he did, to dream with such daring, and to make room for those who cannot breathe.
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”
Hope is the wellspring of courage and action. We must keep faith that the dream is achievable. Frankly, our collective survival depends on it.
Ashley Strahm is a content strategist, activist, and writer in Durham, NC. A Guyanese-American tri-state transplant, she is committed to justice, enthralled by stories, and inspired by the prospect of an equitable future for all.