I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
— Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream,” 28 August 2013
This month, Americans and the world will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This moment should compel us to remember our past, take account of the present, and pursue a future that will instill pride in fifty years.
A half-century after Dr. King’s landmark speech, there have been unimaginable gains that merit celebration, and yet considerable work remains. Difficulties and frustrations, not unlike those of 1963, persist in our communities. And while hard fought, changes in laws and policies have in the long run proved easier than changing systems and mindsets.
Even in an era when American voters twice elected an African American as President of the United States, I am troubled by how much race still determines our experiences and opportunities. Disparities in employment, pay, wealth and healthcare, inequities in educational opportunities and student achievement, re-segregation of schools, imbalances within the criminal justice system, and moments like the shooting of Trayvon Martin indicate “the dream” is still elusive for a large share of us.
I dream of a day when America’s vast racial and cultural differences are celebrated widely, leveraged for the greater good and acknowledged as our greatest asset. That dream is seen not through colorblindness, but instead with the blinding vividness of our differences. That dream will follow our best efforts to build trusting relationships across race inside our organizations and throughout our communities. These are relationships borne of years of uncomfortable work, not comforting words. The promise of America and the dreams of Americans rest on it.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King spoke of coming together and sitting at “the table of brotherhood.” Today, a community advocate in New Orleans makes plain the substance of his eloquence: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
What’s your dream? And who do you need as a partner and at the table to realize it?
Valaida Fullwood is the opening keynote speaker at the Center’s upcoming 2013 Statewide Conference, Nonprofits Making the Difference. She is an organizer of the global campaign for Black Philanthropy Month 2013: An August of Dreams and Mountaintops. You can follow her work and writing at valaida.com and @ValaidaF on Twitter.