Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.
He addressed the mass of blacks and whites facing him.
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” he proclaimed.
Stephon Ferguson picked up the mantle Friday night on the stage of Lee University’s Dixon Center to voice the dream once again.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” Ferguson repeated King’s words.
Silence hung over the students and faculty as Ferguson continued his delivery.
He elongated the words in a style similar to King’s own voice, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and life out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
Ferguson finished King’s speech with the now famous Negro spiritual, “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence Carolyn Dirksen invited Ferguson to join faculty members Ingrid Hart and Dr. Robert Barnett on a panel considering whether the dream depicted by King has come true.
Barnett gave a short discussion on “Race relations in the 21st century as pertains to today’s historical context and today’s politics.”
He said it is interesting America has ever had to deal with racism.
According to Barnett, the Constitution and 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, should have handled every issue presented by King.
The 13th Amendment abolished slavery.
The 14th Amendment afforded the rights of citizenship to anyone born in the country.
The 15th Amendment dictated the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
“So the question is, why are we even here tonight?” Barnett said as he looked at the crowd. “The title of this is ‘Has the Dream come true,’ and I think we all know it hasn’t.”
Racism, according to Barnett, was sanctioned. He said no one enforced the laws in place to protect against discrimination. Racism occurred because people believed it was “fine.”
He said racism today has become more subtle.
“It is interesting to me how some reacted to the election of President Obama. It stunned me, frankly,” Barnett said “I find it interesting how some still talk about him. They question whether or not an African American can be president.”
He listed examples of subtle racism in the public, including the continued argument of whether it is appropriate to fly the Confederate flag over government buildings.
Barnett encouraged students and staff alike to make decisions which will continue to abolish slavery.
“Every time I hear the words of that famous speech, I am reminded of how far we have come,” Barnett said. “But, I am also reminded of how far we have to go.”
A student of color asked Hart what she could say when it seems everything has already been said in regard to race relations.
Hart spoke on the issue from a business world and higher education standpoint.
She had a request for the audience before she began. When she said ‘tell me,’ those in the crowd replied, ‘more.’ Laughter released some of the room’s built up tension.
She said the failure to recognize racism creates complexities in the environment. Hart continued by asking whether abolishing racism would rid the world of every issue.
“Tell me,” she prompted.
“More,” the crowd replied.
“No, it wouldn’t,” Hart declared. “It would not resolve every problem. We would still have problems. The difference is our problems would become more complex.”
According to Hart, it is not as difficult for minorities to enter various academic institutions and career fields as it once was. However, a glass ceiling still exists in a number of jobs.
“Largely, and mostly, people suppose people of color are lucky when they get into certain positions, as oppose to recognizing that perhaps they earned the right to be in certain positions,” Hart said.
She highlighted similarities between education and business, including each entities struggle to handle racism.
“While we may recognize there is a problem, it is really difficult to figure out how to address it,” Hart said. “So what are the challenges in higher education and business? Determining and finding a way in which individuals from divergent backgrounds may come together.”
Dirksen opened up the floor for questions following the panelists’ presentations. A student asked whether the panelists believed King’s dream would ever be realized.
Ferguson said he is optimistic.
“As far as it ever being an issue where there are no race issues, I don’t think that will ever happen,” Ferguson said. “Our country, our nation can be a place where racism, for the most part, has been eradicated.”
Hart requested audience members who believed in the attainability of the dream to clap their hands. A round of applause responded.
“King talked about differences and engagement for all people, no matter what the difference is,” Hart said. “And I think as much as we are persons who are striving to become perfect through Christ ... our part in that is to challenge the stereotypes that do exist one generation at a time.”
Barnett said some days he is pretty cynical and is ready to throw up his hands.
“It is not just about racial equality, it is about just kindness in society and how we treat one another,” Barnett said. “I get frustrated, but it is important we never give up on the idea it is possible.”
He said giving up on the possibility of the dream divests any personal responsibility to further the cause.
“Sometimes we can do these things one small step at a time,” concluded Barnett.