Forty nine years ago this summer Martin Luther King Jr, whose birthday we recognize this weekend, gave his most famous speech from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D. C. His eloquent words, spoken in the shimmering Potomac heat, gave life and breath to remarkable changes in the United States. The support borne out of this speech made possible The Civil Rights Act. The fact that the protests inspired by Dr. King were carried out non-violently caused a bright light to shine on the America of Bull Connor, George Wallace, and Jim Crow.
Martin Luther King Jr, became a symbol for what America could become if only she would turn her back on her darker impulses. A far greater nation she could be if, with Lady Liberty’s light shining the way, she would move forward, away from those who founded the nation and tamed the land on the backs of slavery. An America upon whom God shed His grace, committed to the notion that boys and girls, men and women, of all backgrounds and colors ought be able to dream with opportunity framing their dreams with light and hope.
The United States has come a distance since 1963. Those who say, though, that racial, ethnic, and class divide is a thing of the past are either blissfully unaware or part of the team that is perpetually ahead and don’t know what it’s like to be behind. As citizen’s of this great nation we must never become complacent, instead pushing ourselves, our friends and neighbors, and those who represent us barely more than a stone’s throw from The Lincoln Memorial, to reach toward those who struggle against greed, prejudice, and ignorance. We must help those who have fallen, or the content of our character (as Dr. King so eloquently referenced) will be found wanting.
In light of this weekend and in honor of Dr. King, I have a dream for The University of Oregon:
I have a dream that The University of Oregon will continue to stand as an example of diversity and strength in her community. Eugene is a touchstone of racial inclusiveness, through no small part the efforts of The University community. That this example might flourish and grow forms a part of my dream.
I have a dream that this weekend might continue to be a day of import in the U of O community. Goodness knows, if Halloween can dominate a month (as it does) the truths self-evident in Dr. King’s example deserve a weekend.
I have a dream that, as expenses and tuition cast an ever-ascending shadow on the future of higher education, donations and endowments come together to make sure that the brilliant but dis-advantaged minority in Portland’s inner city might not be left behind. His/her future contributions in the world of science, medicine, law, architecture, or the arts might well far exceed the expense of educating him/her for four years. The young man or lady that doesn’t have enough to eat tonight, but that still must care for a little brother or sister before completing tonight’s homework, may be the Jonas Salk or Itzhak Perlman for this century.
I have a dream that the blue lights that designate an emergency or assault on campus might someday become an anachronism of the past, much as the N***** bracelets that once were celebrated in a Scio bar have become. For most of us, the on-campus experience was a delightful part of our youth. For a few it will be remembered as a time of fear and emotional/physical pain.
I have other dreams. They vibrate with the roar of the crowd and the thunder of an impossibly beautiful paint job on an impossibly beautiful bike on an impossibly beautiful day in an impossibly beautiful stadium watching the team about which oh how we love to learn about. Those are dreams we will talk about in weeks to come. But these are the dreams for today.