Martin Luther King Jr.’ s I Have A Dream speech is as much a call to spiritual arms, meaning to connect to something beyond the materiality of the flesh, as it is a declaration of an embodied presence that must be counted into any conceptions of humanity and justice. The speech is a call for courage on at least two fronts, the material and the spiritual, and, in this instance, the notions of dreams identify the ground on which we want our feet to walk/dance/run on the future. To have a dream is to be in possession of a radical tool for deconstructing and epistemologically grounding the present in order to forge a critically creative and productive path towards a future in which humanity and justice are indelibly intertwined. I recall a conversation, from my much younger adult days, with a young man who was the older brother of a close friend. In response to my question about what, as a child, he dreamt of being or doing when he grew up, he stated, “I didn’t dream, I just wanted to have money.” For him, there was no dreaming of becoming a fireman, lawyer, teacher, or president, for in his assessment of his life, he was just trying, in whatever ways he could, to make money and there was no point in wasting precious time and resources on dreams. He was the oldest of six siblings in a large black Latino family (including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins), living life in the underside of New York City’s lights and glitz. He knew all too well that a dream made it difficult to live complacently in the grind of socioeconomic and racial disparities, and so, likely quite unconsciously, at an age he could not remember, he had surrendered the fight by surrendering his capacity to dream.
The fight for humanity and justice were spaces to which he could visit on occasion, but not in which he could live. Less, I lead you astray, it is important to say that his young man directed the passion that could have fuelled dreams into a passion for honour, a type of honour that had somehow escaped the crunch and grind of urban masculinity and misogynistic posturing, expressing itself in compassionate movements towards those he cared for and an obtuse distancing of all he believed could do harm. At the moment our conversation took place we were preparing a small gathering to celebrate my close friend’s discharge from the hospital. My friend, then 22 years old university student with 19 year old wife whom he had married a year earlier, had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and has spent three or so weeks in the hospital undergoing a litany of tests and medical interventions. All who loved were on auto pilot, for nothing in our lives has prepared us for to what to do with such information. So, we planned each moment with care and prayed that there would be many more moments so that we could eventually once again enjoy the privilege of being occasionally carelessness. If my friend’s older brother entertained any moments of dreaming such dreaming was directed towards his younger brother, who had excelled in academics and was the first in the family to attend university. At 22 my friend, had attended undergraduate on full scholarship and was in the final months of completing his master’s degree in neurobiology. He had met the love of his life when he was 19 and as soon as she turned 18 he proposed to her and they were married three months later. My friend was a person filled with dreams; he embodied the deepest intermingling of justice and humanity. With my friend’s discharge from the hospital came good and bad news: first that his young wife was three months pregnant and second, that my friend would not live long enough to witness the birth of his child. This latter news compelled his older brother made promises that he could keep, taking on a deeper responsibility for his own life as well as the lives of the wife and child of his younger brother. In this moment of beautiful and horrible news, my friend’s older brother committed himself to a dream. What ground do you want your feet to walk/dance/run on in the future?
My time in the dance studio with Martin Luther King Jr.’ s I Have A Dream speech included reading the speech out loud several times while being attentive to the impact the words were having on my feet and pelvis. ‘This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.’ And, I ask myself, in what ways have I not embraced the freedom my foremother and forefathers courageously took up the responsibility to dream for me?
Copyright © 2014 Carol Marie Webster, All Rights Reserved