Today is the last Friday in February—the month set aside in recognition of Black History. Last year, I used this slot to tell the story of a history report I did on Jackie Robinson. When I finished writing it, I told myself that, going forward, I would set aside February’s final Friday to share a story about my past as it relates to a renowned figure in Black history. Just writing these particular words today, I think I’ll take a step forward next year: I’ll set aside every Friday in February going forward for such stories…with one exception. I’ll also add a new category in my blog—I’ll call it Black History—so that these particular flashbacks can be better grouped alongside any other general posts I may end up doing relating to Black history. Anyway, that brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
How I first came across this moment? It was a little over 23 years ago, when I first heard of the “I Have a Dream” speech. I was in Mrs. Stewart’s 2nd grade class. She was a rookie teacher—a really young one as memory now serves—who always found some interesting activity to keep our attention and motivate us to want to learn. She played a VHS tape of the speech and we all watched it. I had heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. from various references in movies like Coming To America in the “Martin Luther The King” scene but this was actually my first time looking at actual footage. I was intrigued.
What it meant to me then? I was only 8 years old back then. It didn’t mean a lot to me when I first saw it. Honestly, it was just another movie we saw in the class but it was a tad bit different. Usually, I’d be playing with the hair of the classmate in front of me but on that day, I was looking and listening intently. If anything, it captured my attention. It really took flight with me the following year when I was in 3rd grade…when I learned a lot more about the civil rights movement and the fight for equality. Two years after that, in Mrs. Hardy’s 5th grade class, I actually got the honor of reciting the end of the speech, representing the 5th graders, at a school-wide assembly.
What it means to me now? Some 20+ years later, it’s a far different meaning for me. I’ve seen the footage at least 80 times. I’ve read the manuscript another 50 or so times. I’ve written papers based off of the speech. I take stock of the message the late civil rights activist was trying to convey in DC that day and I think about myself in today’s time. I think about the opportunities I’ve enjoyed in this life that probably wouldn’t have otherwise happened if not for the March on Washington, which was a defining moment in civil rights history. That first job at Domino’s Pizza in 2000: maybe the franchisee doesn’t take a chance on a 16-year-old kid who’d just a year later become the youngest manager in that location’s history. The Ohio State University: being born and raised in what was the most segregated city in the nation, maybe I don’t get to escape in 2003 and go to Columbus, Ohio for higher education…maybe I end up at one of the HBCUs in Alabama. Life as an Air Force Operations Manager: I certainly wouldn’t have been given the keys to as much as I had if not for the effects of that speech on America. I have a hard time believing that a 19-year-old black kid with barely 6 months experience would be having serious input and responsibility on an $8 million project if not for the speech. Even now, I look at the landscape of the nation. So many African-Americans has prospered into high places. We even have a President who is half-black. A lot of progress overall as a result of Dr. King’s speech but also still a lot of division. The dream isn’t complete. And for me, as I progress further into my 30s, I’ll have to consider the personal responsibility of doing all that I can to make that dream as much of a reality as my resources will allow.