Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. In it, he called for civil and economic rights as well as an end to racism in the United States.
Ask yourself: Is our world today what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said "I have a dream?"
Today, the constant oppression of Black people continues as it is used to strengthen white supremacy and the broken system that doesn’t properly govern. Is this what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said “All men, yes, Black men as well as white men, [will] be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?" Considering the increasing instances of police brutality in America, Black people aren't even guaranteed life. Moreover, we can’t jog, play in our yards, walk back from stores in the dark, sleep in our beds, have a taillight out on our cars, or pay for our groceries in peace. So how do we make it to the guarantees of liberty and the pursuit of happiness? This cannot be the America of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dreams. Or the America that red, white, and blue flags wave for. The celebration of freedom through fireworks and hotdogs simultaneously celebrates children being put in cages on our southern border, and more often than not, whiteness allows many to look past it. Today, we are in an America where people continue to be blinded by white privilege.
This includes the insurrection of January 6th, 2021. After months of peaceful protests from the Black Lives Matter movement all over the world (which were repeatedly met with heavy artillery, rubber bullets, tear gas, handcuffs, and arrests), a group of armed, violent white terrorists walked into the Capitol like it was a regular Wednesday. However, I ask the question, what would it have been like if Black Lives Matter protestors would've tried to storm the capitol? From personally being out in Washington, DC, there were thousands of military armed men whose hands were on the trigger because my Black skin is seen as a weapon. We do not have the privilege of assumed innocence. Due of this, the disgust that sits at the bottom of my stomach is because we are living in two different Americas. I believe this is not what Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned, not what he fought for, and not what he dreamed of as he spoke to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Martin Luther King Jr wasn’t asking for much. He just wanted basic human rights for everyone. He wanted us to treat each other with respect and decency. He dreamed that even with all of our differences in society, we would look forward and embrace the uniqueness that makes us. He hoped we would all realize at the end of the day that we are all people with feelings, needs, and that we all make mistakes. I think what most people miss about Martin Luther King Jr.'s message is that he wanted us to love one another as if we were all friends and family. With such a basic message of loving your neighbor, he was able to inspire change and impact a whole generation of people.
Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech in 1963. America, it is 2021. When will we do better? When will white people support and uplift Black people? Hasn’t enough of our blood been shed? Don’t we deserve basic human rights past life, but liberty and the pursuit of happiness? When will you wake up and fight with us and for us? After all, we are your doctors, fashion designers, athletes, models, lawyers, artists, chefs, business owners, nurses, dancers, and everything else. We are the blueprint and our lives deserve to be valued.
Sincerely, a tired Black woman,
Amaya Jernigan is a junior biology major who attends West Virginia University. Amaya is a part of the first Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Amaya makes strides to better the West Virginia area by writing legislation about equity and inclusion to change things on her campus. Amaya is intending to run for Student Government Association President in spring 2021. When her efforts succeed, she will be the first Black woman to hold the Student Body President title. Amaya works endlessly to give back to her community and West Virginia University is lucky to have her.
Most people know the basic life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life but there some are hidden gems. His parents had always told him that he was equal to everyone, teaching him to become an activist. His time in Simsbury, CT working at the Cullman Brothers’ tobacco farm in the summers of 1944 and 1947 developed his interest in his calling to minister and his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. During the summers at 8 a.m., the Morehouse students would attend church services and Dr. King viewed himself as a religious leader. These visits opened his eyes to the world of no segregation. In a note to his father, he wrote, “The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want and sit any where we want.” Going back to Atlanta, GA affected Dr. King mentally. “[The] separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.”
Dr. King became involved in the Civil Rights Movement when he was chosen to be the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The MIA was where Dr. King began his work with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was chosen because he was new to the world of the Civil Rights Movement and according to Rosa Parks, “...he hadn’t been there long enough to make any strong friends or enemies.” Once Dr. King reached new heights in the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, he played pool to reach out to the members of the Black community who did not come to church to hear his messages.
During his lifetime, Dr. King was arrested 29 times for his Civil Rights activities, gave 2,500 speeches, wrote five books and published numerous articles, and traveled more than six million miles. He won a Congressional Gold Medal, a Medal of Freedom, and a Grammy in 1971 for Best Spoken Word Album for “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam”.
The unknown hidden gems of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life show that even though it takes one some time to find their purpose in life, once you find it you will shine. The legacy of this great orator, activist, and leader lives in the hearts and minds of all activists and visionaries who want this country to be a better place for Black lives.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 West Virginia Black Heritage Festival has been canceled but that doesn't mean we're taking a break!