By Gervan Fearon
America is burning today and, along with it, the dreams of a nation best immortalized in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, in his landmark 1963 speech, “I have a dream.” You can read that oration in its entirety through the United States National Archives here. Many will remember its most famous passage, however it is instructive to read the entire speech, and I am providing here a few quotes:
“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment…
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.”
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and along with him died a dream. Today, any objective observer can see that, over the past 50 years — even the three lines that I have quoted from the six-page speech — his dream has not been fundamentally honoured.
In 2020, we are all well aware of our interconnected world which we see through the role of the internet or the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, we can feel distant and disconnected from the challenges and pain of others just a block away, let alone a country and a people from away. The United States has its own history, but we should not be naïve about our own past or even present that itself at times demands redress, reconciliation and progressive action.
America was burning last night — after the death of a dream from more than 50 years ago — but today should be an awakening, a turning point for action.
As we awake, we can look at the injustices within our midst, and we can work through our actions and choices to make Martin Luther King’s dream meaningful and real, in our lives and in the lives of others. We can ensure that our institutions and our society stand for the core of the values he immortalized. We can of course use our voices and our words to make expressions against injustice. We can talk about ensuring that the doors of opportunity are not closed to others, and that there is a welcoming table when they arrive. Furthermore, we can ensure we are not the ones who are in fact closing that door and being unwelcoming.
Indeed, we define ourselves by our own actions and choices. We can distinguish ourselves when our actions and choices are grounded in equal rights and justice and, by so doing, we define who we are as individuals, as a nation and as Canadians. When we do this, we provide a turning point from anger and despair towards a beacon of hope and possibility for all who at times struggle and even lose their way to the promise land Martin Luther King had envisioned.
Through our actions, our stories and shared history are written. Let’s work together to put out the flames of anguish today so we can shape a better future for tomorrow.
Gervan Fearon is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Brock University.