Happy Birthday, Dr. King.

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If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive, January 15th would have been his 79th birthday. Like many people, I often think of how much he helped change this country, and I wonder what things would be like if had not been assassinated in 1968. I would like to think that maybe this country would be a slightly better place than it is now, but I can’t be sure. And to spend too much time dwelling on what might have been, instead of how things are, is not very healthy. So, I will just be thankful for all that he and millions of other people did, just so I could have a chance to live a life with some sort of equality.

Below is a video of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered in Washington D.C. in 1963, in its entirety. Most of the time when we see footage of the speech it is only of the last few minutes. In high school, I was on the speech and debate team, and I used this speech in competition many times. I had it committed to memory, but not just in the words that are being said, but in the meaning of what is being said. Dr. King’s words moved me as a child when I heard them for the first time, and they still move me today. But what I find interesting while watching this video is seeing how he himself is transformed during this moment. As he begins to speak, you will notice that he spends much of his time reading from his prepared notes. His words are still poetic and passionate, but they are still prepared. But at roughly twelve minutes and thirteen seconds, you can see a marked change in Dr. King. He almost never looks down at his notes again, and for the remaining five minutes or so, his speech takes on a different tenor, just as he takes on a different tenor. I believe at this moment, Dr. King went from being a political and spiritual leader, and transcended to the heights of humanity. And in doing so, for a brief time, he became not the leader of the Civil Rights movement, but a leader of the human race.

This next video is a bit dated, but I love it for a two simple reasons. First, it pays tribute to Dr. King. Second, it recalls a time when hip-hop  was a bit more pure, when it was a community, as opposed to a commodity. I can’t imagine the current generation of hip-hop or R&B stars ever coming together to perform a song like this. If anything, the predominant voices in hip-hop represent the disintegration of Dr. King’s dream. But I think it is important to let people know that as damaged and repressed as his dream may have become, we must keep it alive. We must not be willing to sell our souls for monetary gain.

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One Response to “Happy Birthday, Dr. King.”

  1. alison Says:

    i’d love to sit with a classroom full of young people and discuss this essay…thank you.

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