Living up to the Dream

I share a birthday with Martin Luther King Jr. and from a young age have always been slightly obsessed with the civil rights icon.

Reading his own words from speeches, letters and news clippings, I gained a better understanding of who this man was and in the process shaped my worldview and began my way down a path that led me to the social justice organizer I am today.

We all know the “content of your character” refrain from his I Have A Dream speech. But the soul of the speech and the very reason for the March on Washington has been lost to a sanitized textbook version of the truth.

Martin Luther King Jr used his I Have a Dream speech to give a stinging rebuke of the American Dream:

But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Unchecked greed, corporate power and influence has banished far too many Nevadans to that “lonely isle of poverty” and created an ever-growing class of working poor. As Martin pointed out in his speech, we live in an unbearably inequitable country; the only difference is the demographics have changed.


Laura Martin

PLAN Communications Director