Monday, January 19, 2009

Dreams Sometimes Do Come True!!!

It's Martin Luther King Jr day. Steve, Kristiana and I just watched CNN's broadcast of his most famous speech - the I Have A Dream speech. I cannot watch that or listen to it without tears welling in my eyes.

As a student, later a teacher, and finally a returning alumni speaker at my high alma mater, I wrote three different speeches tying Dr King's dream to my life at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, New York. As a seventh grader, I entered Poly in the first year that it admitted girls. Six years later, when I graduated from high school, I was the first black girl to graduate. As a senior, I wrote an extemporaneous speech for the school's speaking contest that honored Dr King and thanked him for dreaming a dream that planted itself in the hearts of the teachers, alumni, trustees, and leaders of Poly Prep, a dream that ultimately made it possible for me to attend Poly.

Six years later, when I returned to Poly as a Spanish teacher and college counselor, it seemed like there were more black students in the senior class than there were in the entire school (which went from 5th thru 12th grade at the time) when I was a student. As I stood on that platform as a faculty member and spoke to the student body, as I looked out at students and faculty alike, I saw a rich tapestry of people that I could never have imagined when I stood on that same platform as a student.

And twenty years after graduating from Poly, I was invited to return to Homecoming Day to give a speech. I spoke about coeducation at Poly - the education of boys and girls, black students and white students, Jewish and Protestant students, but also Muslims, immigrants from many nations, gay and straight, athletic and artistic, and any combination of these and so many other categories of students. I stood on the same platform and looked at the alumni of that fantastic institution, I looked at the faces of the men who attended Poly before I did, and I thanked them for having the courage they had back in the mid 1970s to withstand the opposition of other alumni and the faculty members who opposed the admission of girls.

I thanked them for taking the chance on girls like me.
I thanked them for continuing to take the chance on students of all backgrounds.
For giving thousands of students the chance to be educated and to educate one another.
And once again, I thanked Dr King for dreaming that dream and for sharing that dream with our nation.

Today, as I watched and listened to the "I have a dream" speech yet again,
as I look around our family room at my own family,
and acknowledge the fact that we live where we live,
that we attend the church we attend,
that we live at peace in this southern city,
the fact that Steve and I, a white man and a black woman, are even married,
I know that this life we share is possible to a large extent because of the courage of people like Dr. King 45+ years ago.

Even with all the work yet to be done,
all the poor and homeless and soon-to-be homeless yet to be housed,
all the sick and suffering yet to be restored,
all the oppressed and marginalized yet to be embraced,
all the wars yet to be ended,
all the immigrants yet to be offered a reasonable way to become citizens of this great nation,

today, as I imagine Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King and their own parents
and my father and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles
and the many hundreds who lost their lives struggling for freedom in this nation
- as I imagine them setting up their chairs to watch the inauguration tomorrow,
- as I imagine Barack Obama's family in Africa setting up their seats and preparing their celebratory feasts,
- as I imagine the millions who will descend upon Washington DC today and tomorrow
- as I imagine all of us who will watch at home with tears flowing, tears of joy and anticipation, tears of concern and hope,

I am awed by the truth that dreams do come true.
The most impossible and unimaginable dreams do come true.

Let there be singing and dancing.
Let there be grace and gratitude.
Let there be peace.
Let there be hope.
Let there be many moments of silence.
And let there be many more dreams dreamed and brought to life in the months and years to come.


jmgb said...

amen! i celebrate along side you my friend...

Amy said...

This is a great day, isn't it? Just thinking how far we've come and anticipating Obama's oath brings tears to my eyes. Very beautiful post, Gail!

Ella said...


Certainly that is his most famous speech and very appropriate for this defining moment in history. He was a well rounded and well read person. He drew his inspiration for writing from diverse sources and books he read. A man ahead of his time.

I think many people would be well served to read many of his writings that I find moving. My favorite is the, "Strength to Love". His writings are very deep in thought, thought provoking and implementing actions to follow through with what you read can be very difficult. Respecting each others difference too, even though we are each different people with different gifts and ways of seeing things. Very important.

Forgiving our enemies is one of my favorites sermons of his. I read it over and over again (I have that sermon printed up) when some days it seems impossible to do so. I really have to work hard on that if someone makes me very angry.

I recently was back at a store I go to frequently and spoke to the guy who flung out some insulating words to me when making a purchase and he made some comments like we don't have a soul. It was bad timing since Sam died that week. I fired back, "It's a free America," and walked out.

Two weeks ago I was in I made it a point to speak with him after avoiding him since that time. We had a long chat even though I took the steps initiate it. It was amazing how it changed things. We are now on good speaking terms and just that small gesture changed it all around. I'm glad I did it.

That sermon on forgiveness reminds me it the one of the most difficult things to do at times. Stepping out side ourselves and making peace with those you can. And to be on good terms if possible. It's the greatest gift we can give to one another. But "unconditional love" is very hard to give at times, especially if you dislike a person.