Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration 2018

Keeping the Dream Alive in 2018

Rodney Coates
January 15, 2018

On a frigid rural road, somewhere in southern China a little boy starts his 2.8 mile trek to school. By the time little Wang Fuman gets to school, frost covers his eyebrows and hair. His lips and cheeks are red and chapped. A photo posted by his teacher dubbed Frostboy has gone viral as people all over the world were touched by this little hero. One viewer responded, "don't forget your dreams." I am reminded that every journey begins with a dream, and every dream ends with a journey.

When Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his dream, it was a reflection of both the contemporary reality of Jim Crow and the audacious hope for a brighter day. Specifically, King's reflections were juxtaposed between the harsh reality Langston Hughes laments in "A Dream Deferred" and the hope expressed in Stevie Wonders' "Hold on to your dreams."

Hughes asked:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Whereas Stevie Wonder challenges us to remember that:

In life we have our pains and sorrows
Face mountains we think we can't climb
there's always tomorrow
You feel like giving up, you say you're out of luck
But then you hear a voice in your mind
Telling you to
Hold on to your dream

King's dream continued a theme that runs throughout the experiences of blacks in America. While his dream continued this historic theme, it nevertheless ushered in a distinctly new set of possibilities. Today, as we contemplate keeping the dream alive in 2018, I think it is time for a new set of dreams and possibilities by a new set of dreamers, dream keepers, and dream makers.

What made King's dream so important is that it was not a simple reaction to the bitter reality of dreams deferred for far too long. It was more than a resignation to the righteous indignation of generations of blacks whose patience wore thin as they waited for America to make good its promises of freedom, dignity and justice. King, the dreamer, refused to submit to the calls for retribution and violence, calling instead for resolve and determination. The genius of King's Dream was to articulate a sustainable community for blacks. It has endured and pointed to hope even as we watch the reemergence of state sanctioned violence targeting blacks and the continued racial gaps in educational outcomes, social mobility, wealth accumulation, health care and sustained high levels of black incarceration. This achievement takes on more relevance when we consider that the leading cause of death for black men between the ages of 18 and 38 is most likely to be another black man. King's dream challenges the system of slavery, then racism that pitted blacks against each other. A system that teaches, encourages and rewards black antagonism, conflict and competition. Rather the dream articulated a community of families where respect replaced envy, deference replaced destruction, and achievement replaced defeat. This dream, now almost 55 years in the making continues to foster the hope, achievement, and calls for justice. However, I wonder if it is time for new dreams and dreamers.

My grandmother used to say, "Don't let nobody steal your dreams, for they are your strength, they help you climb life's peaks and valleys, they help you avoid despair. For only they can keep you from drowning in sorrow, only they can help you face tomorrow."

Dream Keepers

This past week, while going through some last minute Christmas Cards, I came across a real gem that once again reaffirmed the importance of not only dreams, but equally important Dream Keepers. Let me share with you here, a letter from a kid named Chris:

To Whom it May Concern:
"First off I'd like to admit that I was selling marijuana on high school campuses and I'm sorry. I made a very big mistake that will change my life forever. My decisions were immature and very stupid and I regret doing it. I should have thought about my actions before ... now my future is bleak. I am truly sorry, and begging for a second chance to start my life over and walk from this situation into my dreams. If I can get a second chance I promise I will use it to pursue those dreams...."

Chris is not unlike the other 2 million kids arrested each year across this country. What made Chris's story different is that rather than becoming just another statistic he was allowed to become a dreamer. His life was altered by what Gloria Ladson-Billings refers to as Dream keepers. Expanding on her designation, a dream keeper challenges us to envision alternative realities that empower and improve the lives of young people. Dream keepers helped Chris not to obsess over his failure, but to grasp a new reality. He was allowed to dream again. These dreams helped him to refocus, redirect and rechannel his anxieties, fears, and frustrations into alternative possibilities. Oh. The end of the letter, reads: Florida State University Announces the graduation of Christopher Jermaine Butler, with the degree of Bachelor of Science with a major in Information Technology, Friday evening, December 15, 2017.

From slavery to present, dreams have pointed to the possibility of freedom. Though objectively one may be constrained, dreams allows one to subjectively escape. But dreams without purpose driven tasks are but fantasies, and fantasies are illusions that temporarily distort but do not substantially change our realities. Dreams help you turn horror into hope, problems into possibilities, failures into futures, and rejection into what Bob Marley termed redemption songs. For Marley, redemption came from the revolutionary understanding that tasks without dreams were toil, and dreams without tasks or purpose were fantasies. For those who only know toil or fantasies live in slavery. Songs of redemption, that envisioned a new day, gave meaning and purpose to the struggle. They allowed those mired in the belly of the beast to keep hope alive and to sing a change is gonna come. Alongside Dream Keepers are what I choose to call Dream Makers—those individuals that motivate young people to articulate, refine, and pursue their dreams.

Dream Makers

Dream Makers are parents and family, teachers and mentors, friends and other community members. For it does indeed take a village to raise a child. Dream makers are what make democracy and the American dream work. They are everyday people that stand up and fight for change, dispel animosity, and fight for alternative futures where everyone is able to maximize their potential. Therefore, where some have fallen astray and find their paths blocked with hatred, misery, and despair, dream makers point to love, kindness, and hope.

So while some point to the ever objectification of identity, the increasingly fragmented families and communities, the increasing fragility of life itself. Dream Makers point out that it is not more machines, but more humanity that we need. Therefore, while some live behind barricades of hate, dream makers espouse a future where we all can live lives free and open. In addition, as King observed, while our technology allows us to travel to the moon, many of us need to learn how to travel next door. As we attempt to achieve his beloved community, perhaps the first step is to get to know each other.

Unfortunately, while our knowledge has increased, we have become more cynical, more distrustful, and more complacent. Dream Makers are needed to help us reassert the goodness of universal brotherhood, the power of unity, and the endurance of love and justice. We must become what King dreamed we could be -Drum majors for justice, drum majors for peace, and drum majors for righteousness. For in doing this, we will make the dream a reality, we will renew our spirits, and we will then be able to "cash the check" issued by our nation in the words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. This promissory note, that held that all people regardless of status—be they brown, tan, red, black, white, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, gentile, straight, gay, trans, immigrant, homeless, or elderly—are guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As we continue to pursue the dream, we will continue to take the high road that leads into the palace of justice. We therefore will not drink from the cup of bitterness or hatred. We will recognize that we are all part of this great family called humanity, regardless of accidents of birth.

We recognize that as we pursue our dreams, we can never be satisfied just as long as blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Jews and Muslims are victims of unspeakable horrors of police brutality, indiscriminate searches and seizures, or denied access because of their religion. We cannot ignore the plight of immigrants and refugees whose only crime is having been born on the wrong side of a border. Neither can we ignore the continual harassment, discrimination, and intimidation faced by women.

Homophobia has no place in our churches, schools or our community. Poverty knows neither race, religion, gender, nor nationality. Poor whites in Appalachia and the rural south, displaced workers in the rust belt and urban slums, unemployed and underemployed in the deep south and south of the borders- need real jobs, real opportunities, and real deals so they can feed their families, educate their children, heal their sick and truly make America great again.

Let freedom ring, for all of these members of our extended family and community. We cannot continue to uphold a system that strips children of their identity, or deny them the dignity of nobility simply because they do not have the proper papers. Sickness and homelessness can no longer be tolerated in the richest country in the world. Neither can we continue to allow the high dropout rates, achievement gaps, income and health disparities, which allow poverty to continue unabated generation after generation. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty river.

You see, I too have a dream. That all the Wang Fuman's of the world will breath free, and sing that old Negro Spiritual—free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last. And so, even with these difficulties, even though at times it appears that the world and its leaders have gone crazy, I remain hopeful, I remain determined, and I remain convinced that the dreams, dreamers, dream keepers and dream makers will continually shine beacons of light toward a brighter tomorrow. Yes, I have a dream that dreams will return.

Dreams Return

Rodney Coates

What happens when dreams return?
Do they sparkle with hope and glisten with song
Do they prance along voyeuristic roads?
Where wonder and surprise forever unfolds.

What happens when dreams return?
Do they fill cups with promise and souls with laughter?
Do they shatter despair and vanquish frustration
Where each day overflows with possibilities.
Or do they point the way to unbridled futures.

Don't give up or in ... hold on to your dreams....
Pursue them with passionate determination
Nurture them diligently with excellence and resolve
Keep getting up till your dreams become reality.

Then ... dream a new dream ... as dreams return.