How did the dream begin? Martin Luther King Jr. was born into a world of first generation “freed” people of color. By freed, I mean separate and unacceptable. White and black did not mix and the non-whites get less than scraps for a day’s living. How can a dream exist from that? I’m sure watching the lives of white citizens would spark a longing for better, but at the end of the day, they were still white and he still wasn't. Having a dream means having hope that things can be different. Dr. King, where did your hope come from?
Perhaps when God used Moses to deliver the Hebrews out from under the hand of slavery? Perhaps when he called David to begin is life as crusader by slaying a giant with a sling shot? Or maybe he just knew that the salvation demonstrated on the cross by Jesus Christ meant salvation for sinners of every color. The dream came from knowing his fellow man did not define his worth. He knew he was just as much God's creation as any other human being. He also knew he deserved to be treated as such.
"We refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt," Dr King said. To deprive even one citizen of a basic American right will always prove our nation to be fundamentally bankrupt. In the days of Dr. King, democracy, opportunity, and equality were only allowed to the whites of our nation. America was one step and only a generation and a half away from slavery. Meanwhile, the first in line for democracy, opportunity, and equality believed a repeated story: we've allowed you among us and that is fair enough.
We pay you now (even though you're not entitled to retirement or equal wages), and that is fair enough.
We allow you to own homes/cars (even though businesses only sell to whites), and that is fair enough.
We have opened the education system to black citizens (even though none have the funding and receive the recognition for higher education like white schools) and that is fair enough.
We have allowed you to eat here (but if you try to sit where a white person sits, you could be beaten in public) and that is fair enough.
While the last in line where told, "you're lucky to have these things at all."
Dr. King thought, no... he knew, that none of it was fair. They weren't "lucky" and if it wasn't good enough for white people, it wasn't good enough for anyone else. People are people and not one is more valuable than the other.
Amidst anger, injustice, fear, and crime, where did the dream come from? I like to imagine what it was like to pastor his church. How could you preach the deliverance of the Hebrews and not feel remorse for your own congregation? How could you tell stories about Paul's life in prison and not fear the same fate for your own family? How could you build the faith of your congregation if you weren't acting on the calling God put on your heart?
Dr. King demonstrated that a dream is not always a lofty idea that begins with "maybe someday." The dreams that become reality begin with "now," "why?" and "send me." The dreams that change the world are not delightful and self-serving. Rather, they risk life and limb for the sake of the mission. Not for fame, but because they cannot sit idly by and watch evil reign. The dream didn't fulfill a fantasy, it solved a problem.
The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is the truest example of planting the seeds even if you don't see the harvest. Dr. King was threatened, persecuted, beaten, arrested, and ultimately assassinated for fighting for the rights of people of color in America. Just forty years later, the United States would elect it's very first African American president. How could it have happened without the cataclysm of racial injustice propelled by Martin Luther King Jr.? Who else would have done it? How long would it have taken? There's no doubt of one thing: if Dr. King had not stepped up, we would still be legally segregated. The dream placed it's footing in our nation's history because Dr. King sought to please the Lord and free his people. His actions mimicking the life of Christ-- remembering that seeking the Lord before seeking revenge would honor them both. "...We must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force." (King, Martin Luther, Jr., Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1963)
A goal achieved through injustice, violence, or dominance ruins the life of the victim and poisons the heart of the offender. Thus, it's not an achievement, but rather the planting of a bitter root that has the power to poison both the present and future generations. Although the life and legacy of Dr. King is the cornerstone for racial justice in this world, our nation is not free from the bitter root that was planted hundreds of years ago. Our biases, fears, and unfamiliarity with those that are different from us create barriers that are perfect for Satan to use in our division. What begins as misunderstanding can cultivate into anger, partiality, and dehumanization of our fellow man, even if those thoughts are kept silent.
So what are our responsibilities?
1. Be an ally, celebrate how someone is different, and share in the legacy by never allowing God's creation to be torn down by an equally made counterpart.
2. Have a high-risk dream that solves a problem. Use your gifts, talents, and influence to lift up those who can't lift themselves.
If that seems too radical or extreme, imagine taking those missed opportunities to the grave. Imagine how your world could have changed if you had just chosen what was right over your fear. If there's one thing I want to be accused of, it's using my voice to remind others that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the eyes of our Creator. Evaluate your dream and let it create a legacy worth following.