I was much too young to see Martin Luther King, Jr., but I was just the right age to see Coretta Scott King when she spoke at my university’s chapel as part of the school’s lecture series. As CEO of the King Center that she founded to continue her husband’s legacy, she carried forth her husband’s legacy and unfinished works while spreading the principles of nonviolent social change to fight poverty, racism and war. Last time I checked, these things have not gone away.
The “I Have a Dream Speech” was delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. It is one of the most famous speeches ever given and is lauded for its brilliant oratory along with its persuasiveness for impacting change. With his charisma, visionary leadership, and a spirit that refused to be anything but “free at last,” Martin Luther King, Jr. symbolized something central to our nation’s character: HOPE.
Here is the speech in its entirety:
The “I Have a Dream Speech” continues to resonate with people all over the world. These are the reasons why:
1. We’re getting there, but the work is far from done
People of all races still strive for equality. As far as we’ve come, we still have a long way to go. The speech never gets old, instilling in us the powerful idea of brotherhood and that as diverse as we are, we are one.
2. A lesson in leadership
Through his words, MLK Jr. gave voice to the voiceless. Through his deeds he gave courage to the faint of heart. Through it all, he taught us the power of love and humanity.
3. We yearn for unwavering examples of human integrity
MLK Jr. endured the humiliation of arrest, the loneliness of a prison cell, and constant threats to his life which was ultimately sacrificed. In an era of false heroes and the all-too-common occurrence of being let down by those we once held in high esteem, we need people to look up to, to aspire to be and who make us say, “I want to be like them!.”
4. Motivation to inspire others
The way King went about affecting change is a leadership and linguistic lesson in how to move mountains. The speech is one of the greatest examples of what we can do when we act on our hearts, and it gave us a benchmark to strive for: a country that acts on its own ideals and measures itself against how it treats its least fortunate.
5. A shining example of how one person can move others to action
The speech reinforces that change begins with us and that any one of us can help transform the world. Martin Luther King, Jr., one man, did nothing less than inspire a nation to transform itself and begin living up to the meaning of its creed.
6. Economic injustices still exist
Much is said about today’s economic “winners and losers.” MLK, Jr. deplored the idea that businesses should exploit workers by failing to pay a decent wage or laying off dedicated employees to squeeze more profits. Today’s Occupy Wall Street Movement is one example of just how passionate people still are about these issues.
7. We have large-scale unemployment
King believed human dignity could be restored with federal works programs that trained and placed unemployed workers. This thinking still informs our current dilemma about what it will take to restore people’s livelihoods and dignity amidst the longest, deepest, global recession in a generations.
8. A reminder to serve others
We too can strive to be better, serving our nation and our fellow brothers. It is easy to fall into complacency as we busy ourselves taking care of only our own in a complicated society. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired us to reach out to others in greater need.
9. Serves as a powerful presentation to our children about prejudice
The speech is an influential classroom tool that still resonates with children today. Kids aren’t huge fans of black and white video clips, but it doesn’t take long for the magnificent words and charisma of King to transcend the limitations of any media.
10. We require reminders that make us look into our souls
The United States believes it is a land in which strength is defined not simply by the capacity to wage war but by the determination to forge peace. The speech forces us to face these ideals and is still helpful today as we look in the mirror to determine if we like what we see.
11. It helps the rest of the world fight discrimination
Fighting for what is right and just are basic human impulses, yet oftentimes they are difficult to act on. The world has a long way to go before eradicating racial hatred, discrimination, segregation and ethnic strife. Anything that inspires people to action is a plus, let alone such a shining example as the “I Have a Dream” speech.
12. Powerfully reinforces the notion that progress is possible
It is so easy to become disenchanted, discouraged, disengaged and even depressed with the state of affairs in our society, our government and our world. Voter apathy is rampant. We need the “I Have a Dream Speech” to remind us of our better selves and all that we still aspire to be.
Coretta Scott King said “all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice,” including against sexual orientation. She institutionalized Martin Luther King’s “philosophy, his principles of nonviolence and his methodology of social change,” and helped push it forward.
These worthy causes still exist today. Progress is being made, but it is up to each one of us to carry them forward, no matter how small or how large the gestures. We are busy, time is short and for most of us, the daily challenges are great. But we all must do our part.
Paul Biedermann is Creative Director/Owner of re:DESIGN and Managing Partner/Editor-in-Chief of 12 Most. re:DESIGN specializes in Strategic Design, Branding, Visual Content Marketing and Communications. Creating brands of distinction for profitable market advantage, he intersects smart design with visual business strategies that reach, engage, and inspire people to action. Paul is Co-Host of the popular online chat, My Book Club, hosting best-selling business authors and serves on the Board of Directors of the Social Media Association. He began his career at ABC Broadcasting before moving to a design agency that created innovative campaigns for ESPN and then becoming Art Director for NFL Properties. As Creative Director for The McGraw-Hill Companies, Paul spearheaded projects for such leading brands as Standard & Poor’s, BusinessWeek, J.D. Power and Associates, Architectural Record, and McGraw-Hill Education.
Beautiful words from Martin Luther King. It is never a withered lifestyle to live through the course of your dreams. We are too distracted racing through time that we forget that what keeps us prisoners is ourselves, and it only takes one big step to take action to what we believe in.
Paul, this post is worth reading -- and re-reading, regularly. We all need to remind ourselves of your poignant points. Remembering the struggles leaders fought, and the lessons they taught, decades ago is one of the most important ways we now can keep progress building. Complacency erodes our collective awareness that true freedom is valuable, and vulnerable. Thank you so much for writing this post, Paul.
Really thought provoking post Paul. I love this "A shining example of how one person can move others to action." I think everyone feels that someone else is going to change things or make the world a better place. We ALL are called to action each day and need to act on it.
I enjoyed each of these points, but "We yearn for unwavering examples of human integrity" was probably my favorite. Of course the ability to inspire others to action and demonstrate how one person can make a difference are special too. Who do we look to today that unwaveringly lives out these ideals?
A great review of a life lived out loud, Paul. When barriers seem to get in our way, remember MLK. When progress doesn't happen as fast as we like, remember MLK. When we don't know if we can rise to the challenge, remember MLK. Martin Luther King demonstrated that we need to confront and we need to never give up for changes that need to happen. Thanks for a very relevant reminder! Jon
Excellent post, Paul. I make it a habit to watch the speech every year. I hadn't seen the entire thing until just a few years ago, and I was both amazed and somewhat horrified with how much is the same. We can all hope to leave a legacy of hope. Thanks for the reminders.
@BeckyGaylord I agree, Becky — thanks so much for your well-articulated comments and insights. As far as we’ve come in the 50 years (2 score and 10?) since the March on Washington, we must remain steadfast and vigilant in the work that still remains to be done.
@PegFitzpatrick Thanks, Peggy. That is exactly what I was trying to say, and that it can be little things too that over time make a difference. We are all examples to each other, every day, no matter how large or small the gesture.
@dbvickery I’m glad you liked that one, Brian, as it was one of mine as well. As a father of two boys, it is really something that stands out since there are so few examples to point to outside of one’s own family.
@ThinDifference Well put, Jon — even the more vocal types among us need the occasional reminder to speak up for what is right and just when it would be easier not to. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the dialog!