Just as the Joe Louis and Max Schmeling rematch fight gave my parents’ generation hope and courage, Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech inspired my generation. Perhaps I should say, it inspired me.
As we often remember the details about where we were when significant events occurred in our lives, I remember that neighbors gathered with my grandmother, my mother, and me in the kitchen in our apartment in Chicago when Dr. King spoke.
We had a small black-and-white television that we brought from my mother’s bedroom and placed on the kitchen table. The table was up against a wall so there were only three chairs, but no one sat down during the speech. We were all transfixed by the number of people, the beauty of King’s words, and the courage of all who participated in the March.
As Dr. King’s words, the images the words evoked, and the cadence and tenor of his voice made me tremble with joy, I remember also being afraid that someone would do some small thing that would bring out the dogs and water hoses and someone would be killed. Even during this triumphant moment, there was reason to fear.
This speech came at a pivotal time for me. I had completed my first year at college and, because of financial hardship, I had decided that I would not return. It was after Dr. King’s speech that I changed my mind. I was not only inspired, I was ashamed that I would allow financial hardship and general unhappiness about college make me squander the opportunity that so many had fought and suffered to give me.
As we commemorate the day of the March on Washington and the Dream speech, I am heartened by all that has been accomplished and encouraged that a new generation will accomplish so much more. Our students today have the tools and the courage to help future generations live the Dream. It is a privilege to participate in their lives.