“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward,” and of course “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King Jr. was more than just a man in my eyes, in my mother’s eyes, and in my family’s eyes. My father can tell me of hearing the announcement over the radio that Dr. King had been shot down in Memphis, Tennessee. My uncle and my mother can recall almost all of his speeches and break them down for me piece by piece, alongside that of Malcolm X but that is something to be left for another day. In my house, or at least in the eyes of my mother, Dr. King is a prophet. A man, recognized for his imperfections but yet, he is still seen as though he is larger than life.
I remember I was around the age of 7 maybe 8 at the time, when I heard his “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time and I’m not going to say that it immediately resonated with me, or that I became obsessed with the man and his preaching’s, because that’s far from the truth at the time. The first time I heard it, I’m pretty sure I fell asleep. My excuse? I was young, I wanted to be anywhere but inside my house listening to an old audio, talking to my mother about Martin Luther King and Brother Malcolm as she says, while she pulled out her old books and talked to me about protests, the Nation of Islam and how great men can be cut down so quickly. But I digress, every year since I was about 8, I’ve listened to that speech, and every year I am able to understand, relate and appreciate more and more of it. It wouldn’t be until I was around 12 or 13 when it finally hit me why it was so important for me to listen to this speech over and over again, to the point where it felt like a broken record.
What does Martin Luther King Jr. mean to me? Well first off, I don’t even know where to begin, so I suppose I’ll have to tell you what that particular name makes me feel. So, what do I feel when thinking and reminiscing about Dr. King:
Proud. I feel proud to be able to relate on a slightly more personal level to a man who didn’t just speak for black people, but for everyone in general. Dr. King’s ideologies weren’t specific to one group of people. His ideas could be widely applied and interpreted by people of different backgrounds. I feel proud to belong to a large community of people who might face setbacks again and again, but in the end, I know that, together, we’ll win the war. I am proud that Dr. King touched the hearts of many in our nation, and that there is a day every year in which we honor him and his legacy.
Scared. I feel scared that without men or women similar to Dr. King, that it’s possible for what Dr. King worked so hard for, what people across this country have worked so hard to achieve, will completely revert back. I am scared that no matter how much people speak out, it won’t matter because sometimes others just aren’t willing to listen. But being scared certainly isn’t the biggest emotion that I feel.
Happy. Happy will always hold precedence over the former two that I previously mentioned. I am happy that Dr. King’s teachings are still taught and that he is still prominent in current discussions today. I am happy that his legacy continues on not just in schools, but through the fact that he has a national holiday. I am Happy that he is not a figure who will simply be ignored and placed in the back of history textbooks, because for a man so great, he does not deserve that. Dr. King deserves more acknowledgments and praises than I have time in this speech to give, not that I’d know where to start if I did in fact have said time. But once again, I am happy.
Now, back to why it’s important to me to listen to Kings “I Have a Dream” speech over and over to the point of near insanity. I listen because it’s important to understand what Dr. King stood for. It’s important to recognize the part of this speech not only played in the Civil Rights era, but in the everyday lives of those he touched. In this day and age, you cannot go along in life and not recognize what Dr. King stood for. It's no longer enough to just know the name, you need to know the man behind it. Dr. King, may he rest in peace, is no longer with us, and he hasn’t been for quite some time. But his voice, his presence, and his power has vibrated throughout the United States for years, and it will continue to. So, this MLK Day once again, I will be listening to “I Have a Dream”, facing the likelihood of becoming a broken record, admiring the picture of Ruby Bridges and looking at pictures of Selma, while finding a legal way to watch The Hate U Give.
And with that I leave you with this: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It’s never too late to speak up, or speak out. You don’t have to be the next Martin Luther King Jr., you can make a difference in your own small way, and I hope that somehow, someway, you all will.
About the Author
Madison Green is a Junior in High School in Essex County who was looking for an opportunity to write for a local newspaper. Madison is currently Publicity Chair and Staff Writer at the High School and teen editor at the local Jack and Jill Chapter.