Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial before a throng of civil-rights activists in August of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech, one of the most powerful and enduring calls for equality and tolerance ever uttered on a public stage.
Dr. King proclaimed, “I have a dream that my four little 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.” With those words, Dr. King captured the most fundamental hope of every parent: that their children be allowed to follow their dreams without limit, free from presumptions about who they are or what they may achieve simply because of the color of their skin, their gender, their ethnic heritage, their religious affiliation, or their sexual preference.
For the sake of the children, Dr. King pleaded that day, America must live up to the most fundamental of its democratic ideals.
The questions raised by Dr. King’s speech fifty-three years ago are still as powerful and relevant today as they were then. They are questions worth considering on this holiday that honors the man and the legacy. Here are a few: Will we follow the path Dr. King and others forged and celebrate rather than denigrate the rich tapestry of our diversity? Or will we allow our differences to be cynically exploited to divide us? Can we overcome our fears and open ourselves up to the underlying content of a person’s character, no matter how different or foreign they seem to us? Or will we continue to believe falsely that the entirety of individuals can be summed up by the hoodies they wear on the street, or by the scarves wrapped around their heads, or by the manner in which they celebrate the dictates of their beliefs?
Below is a video of Muslim women from around the world speaking out about why they choose to wear hijab, what their choice does or does not say about them, and the challenges they face living as Muslims in Western societies.
I imagine Dr. King would have seen in these brave women echoes of the struggle he dedicated his life to. He certainly would have invited them to stand shoulder to shoulder with him on that stage because he would have understood that they too “have a dream.”