When I visit Washington, DC my favorite place to hang out is the Lincoln Memorial. With the great statue of Lincoln overlooking the mall, his great words inscribed into the walls on either side, it is one of the capital’s most inspiring places.
Great words have been spoken there too, none more memorable than Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech to the 1963 March on Washington 50 years ago today. King dared to hold out a higher aspiration when he said, “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.”
He put the dream in concrete terms. “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
King’s dream has not been fully realized, but we’re far closer than we were 50 years ago. A big part of the reason is that he was willing to speak his dream and people were willing to believe it, work for it and fight for it.
A few years back, they commemorated those words with an inscription carved into the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King gave his speech. Shortly after that I was hanging out at on the memorial steps when I realized I was standing on that inscription. I jumped off as quickly as I could, not feeling ready to stand in the place where the man spoke those great words.
A few years later I was hanging out at the memorial again reading Taylor Branch’s magnificent history of the Civil Rights Movement, “America in the King Years.” I came to the place in where Martin had started opposing the Vietnam War. An antiwar protestor had torched himself in front of the Pentagon just across the Potomac River from where I was sitting. King was asked by a reporter what he thought about this.
At this time, Martin knew death was stalking him. He would be dead within a year, shot down in Memphis. So his response takes on added meaning.
King did not favor making a statement through suicide. But if one took a stand for justice and gave their life as a consequence then that could have redemptive value, he said. Something about the moment drew me to finally stand at the “I have a dream” spot. A thought came to mind to state my own dream. So thinking about climate and all the challenges facing our species, I spoke the first words that came to mind: I have a dream, that out of this time facing the deepest crises that humanity has ever faced, we will rise to the better angels of our nature, meet those challenges, and make a great world for ourselves and our children.
We face the most profound crisis in human experience. We have a choice to let the world slide into climate change that curses our children and uncountable generations to come. Or we can be a redeemer generation giving our lives in our everyday actions to make a world that sustains the lives of our children and coming generations. I believe we can, and we will. That is my great world dream.