Fifty years removed from its delivery, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech still resonates, evidenced by its continued use as a source of inspiration for those still working for racial, social and economic justice.
On the holiday recognizing his birth Monday, King’s big message filled the small sanctuary at St. James CME Church in Leavenworth. For about 25 years the community has come to celebrate the civil rights leader’s legacy and spirit, in addition to his words, at one of a number of area churches that host a service featuring music and speeches.
The Rev. Warren Freeman, pastor at Bethel AME, was the featured speaker at this year’s observance. He said it was through King’s actions and message and the movement alongside him that African-Americans were able to rise from the historic oppression of slavery and through Jim Crow. It wasn’t easy, Freeman said, but King was committed.
“He continued to preach hope in a hopeless time,” Freeman said, praising the way the civil rights leader kept his religious beliefs as central in his message of justice.
He said that message continued to be important in 2013. Monday was also a day when, across the country, the first African-American President of the United States was being sworn in for a second term. As he took the oath of office in a ceremony Monday, President Barack Obama’s hand rested on two Bibles — one owned by President Abraham Lincoln, the other owned by King.
Freeman echoed sentiments from Obama’s inauguration speech, especially his calls for equality and justice for all people, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.
“What happened to just treating people the way you’d want to be treated?” Freeman asked.
There are new struggles, and Freeman said the path through them, as King might say, is unity. He encouraged those in the audience to continue to be “dreamers” in King’s own image.
“We’ve got to dream everywhere that we go,” he said. “Don’t just dream to yourself, but make sure that people around you know your dream — your dream of prosperity, your dream of togetherness, your dream of harmony, your dream of peace in this land.”
At the end of the event, Sharon Anderson —one of the organizers of the event — said it could start with some self-reflection. She came up with the theme of the night, “Are You a Part of the Dream?” as a way to spur some of that thinking on the part of the audience members.
“Are you a part of the dream? I want to be a part of the dream,” she said. “As long God will let me draw breath.”