Trayvon Was My Grandson: why I want to see King’s dream completed

mlkihaveadreamgogo50 years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave what is perhaps, the most profound speech in all of American history.

I remember visiting Washington D.C several years ago and standing in the exact spot where Dr. King gave his speech, not knowing how deeply I would come to identify with his dream.

King had a dream. In the past, I didn’t share it.

But, now I do.

His dream, has become mine.

You see, in the past my heart was horribly racist.

No, I never had a membership card to the Klan, but my heart was corroded with racism just the same. I’d be ashamed to admit in detail the contents my heart used to have, but just know, it wasn’t pretty. I perpetuated stereotypes, harbored resentment towards those I thought were destructive to our culture, and saw everyone else as being the problem in society… not realizing that attitudes like mine were the problem with society.

Before I awoke to a new kind of Christianity, my heart was dark toward other races, and I am so very sorry for that fact.

Today however, I not only share in King’s dream but I share it with a fervor that I never imagined I would experience. As time goes on, I find that I identify with it, pray for it, and am willing to give my life for it… something I never imagined would become so close to my heart.

During the Trayvon Martin case (and the Troy Davis case before that) people probably wondered why a white guy in New England would take racial injustice so personally… I took some heat for speaking out publicly on both cases, and I’m okay with that because, the truth is, Trayvon Martin was my grandson.

You see, I don’t live in a traditional “white” family. Years ago, my wife and I decided that we weren’t going to have biological children, and instead wanted to pour our lives out, and into, children from other countries who needed a family. The impact that would have, never fully crossed my mind– coming from a life of white privilege, I had no idea that becoming a minority family would cause me to see the world so differently.

for blogNone of my children are or will be, white (we hope to adopt in the future from the Democratic Republic of Congo)… which means my grandchildren won’t be white either.

This truth, forcefully thrusts me to see things differently. I notice and experience racism and stereotypes in a very personal way now, and can no longer allow myself to think of our future through the filter of my white privilege.

Instead, I must see things for the way they really are- and get my hands dirty trying to fulfill the dream Dr. King so eloquently conveyed to our nation.

Just this morning, I saw my daughter Johanna off to school- her first day in the 5th grade. Along side of her is her cousin Imani, who was recently adopted by my sister-in-law from Uganda, and started Kindergarten today. Through their eyes, I feel the hopes of Dr. King 50 years ago.

I want them to live in, not the world they do, but the world Dr. King described.

I think of their potential children… children that will look a lot more similar to Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis than they will to me.

I think of them… and I long for King’s dream to be fulfilled.

But we still have work to do, and a long way to go.

As Dr. King said 50 years ago today:

“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

While in some ways we have risen from the valley of segregation, we are still finding ourselves sinking in the quicksands of racial injustice… not all of God’s children are experiencing justice as a reality.

Sadly, that reality didn’t trouble me so much before- growing up in an all-white family didn’t leave me with any experiences that would cause me to identify with Dr. King’s dream. However, the journey of becoming a family unit that will ultimately be more black and brown than white, radically changes the lens through which I see the world.

Now that I realize my children and grandchildren may likely be “profiled” and assumed to be criminals- simply because they aren’t white, I see things differently.

Now that I realize my grandsons will be dark skinned, and will live in a country where they, being completely unarmed, can be shot and killed for no reason, I see things differently.

Now that I realize I will need to have conversations with my children and grandchildren about wearing hooded sweatshirts, and how they interact with police, I see things differently.

Now that I realize I wouldn’t even have those conversations with my children if they were white, I see things differently.

Now that I realize the statistical likelihood of my grandchildren spending time in prison on the basis of their skin color and not the content of their character, I see things differently.

Now that I realize if my children travel to NYC, they might be stopped and frisked by the police- without probable cause- I see things differently.

Now that I realize my daughter might be driving through the South West one day, and that she could be harassed to see her “papers”, I see things differently.

Dr. King had a dream for his children that I share with my children- a dream of a less violent society, a dream where racial minorities receive the same protections, benefits, and opportunity as whites. A day when racial minorities could simply be all that God created them- as individuals- to be.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Yes, one day.

But not this day.

On this day, our legal system is still biased against racial minorities.

On this day, those entrapped into a cycle of poverty only have opportunity to move from “ghetto to ghetto”.

On this day, our children are being shot and killed without justice, because of the color of their skin.

On this day, we’ve grown systematically more violent, and the only solution being proposed is more violence.

Yes, one day… maybe, we will rise up to see King’s dream live.

But until that day, like Dr. King, I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day my children and grandchildren will live in a nation that treats them no differently than whites.

I have a dream that one day, my children and grandchildren, will be asked questions about their skills, gifts, and abilities- not questions to classify “legal” or “illegal”.

I have a dream that one day, my children will be seen for who they are- not racially profiled for who they are assumed to be.

I have a dream that one day, my future grandsons could walk down the street in a hooded sweatshirt, and not be shot for the way they are dressed, or the color of their skin.

Growing up white, I never identified with Dr. King’s dream. Becoming an interracial family, however, changed all that.

Not only am I finally beginning to understand Dr. King’s dream, I’m now able to say that yes— I have a similar dream, too.

A dream for my children that I never thought I’d need to have.


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About Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is currently a 3rd year Doctor of Missiology student (a subset of practical theology) at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore. He is also a contributor for Time, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. Ben is also co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Ryan Blanchard

    When Rob Portman found a way to get over his bad theology because his is gay, I was resentful for awhile. Why should human decency have to slap someone in the face before they can recognize it, I wondered. Why can’t we overcome our wrongs prior to a huge event in our own lives that shows up what we should have known, all along?

    But it didn’t take much self-reflecting to understand that that’s how we all change. Sympathy doesn’t become empathy until it’s our issue, not someone else’s. It’s easy to be anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-atheist, etc.. until we have a gay child, or a black friend, or become an atheist ourselves. Fortunately, most of the time, society moves forward. When our friends come out, we have to deal with it, and we change. When minorities demanded rights, and we stopped to listen, we understood their perspective, and we changed. Even religion, where “truth is truth is truth,” changes when the truth can’t be stopped by bad theology anymore.

    Really enjoyed this one.

  • Vidda Chan

    Thank you for your article. Would that more people could learn to see with new eyes like you. What’s sad (for me anyway) is to see how many people of color can be so racist. Apparently, it’s not just a “white syndrome.” Being Eurasian, growing up looking and passing for white, I’ve seen it on both sides. But definitely, it hurts more to watch your children experiencing it.

  • Lora Gorton

    We often hear Martin Luther King’s I HAD A DREAM speech, but I think His sermon “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” should be heard and read by everyone. King was a believer is Jesus Christ and that’s what was at the heart of everything he did.

  • gimpi1

    Ben, do you think you would have awakened to the issues of white privilege without adopting children of different races? Do you have any ideas short of creating a new family that you could suggest?

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    I think I would have, to some degree, but not to the degree as now. It’s one thing to have minority friends and begin to learn from them (something we all need to do) but for me, building a multi-racial family took things to a whole new level.

    For example, I was able to pay mental accent to friend’s complaints about the way they are treated as minorities, but I understood it in a whole new way the first time my daughter came home from school crying, saying “they told me I’m not allowed to be here because I don’t speak English, and that I should go home”.

    That was the day it all really, really changed for me. Short of that, surround yourself with a diversity of friends, and humbly learn from their life experiences.

  • gimpi1

    I’m sure having multi-racial children awakens one in a way nothing else can. Congratulations on your family, and your growing awareness. Right now, adoption isn’t in the cards for my husband and I, but who knows what the future might bring. I think befriending a wide variety of people is a great idea.

    Do you think travel helps? I found travel helped me open up to people I might not have gotten involved with, had I met them on my own turf. Did you find that to be the case?

    I have read that empathy is the junction between compassion and imagination. Do you imagine yourself in your daughter’s shoes? Do you find it easier to empathize with people not like you since becoming a parent to a multi-race family? What about reaching across barriers of belief? Is is hard for someone of firm belief to accept or love someone who does not share that belief? Can you empathize with non-Christians?

    Apologies in advance for all the questions. This is something I am working on personally. I find it too easy to close myself off, to stay in a rut of friends and family, shutting out people who don’t match my preconceptions. Race is not much of an issue for me, but education is. If I make an (often unconscious) decision that someone is uneducated or foolish, I find myself simply dismissing them. While I don’t necessarily have to respect all their opinions, I need to do a better job of accepting the person. I want to improve at seeing the (often) fine individual that I am ignoring.

    I’m looking for ways to expand my abilities to relate and empathize across boundaries. All suggestions gratefully accepted.

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    Travel helps to a great degree– traveling around the world was a big thing that kept me from staying a fundamentalist. However, it works to generate awareness, but you only begin to empathize once you really learn someone’s story, which is why authentic friendships are incredibly important.

    I do try to imagine what it’s like to be in her shoes, but the truth is– I can’t. We can’t. We will never know what it is like to be a minority and face discrimination unless we actually go somewhere that makes that a reality.

    Overall, I think traveling is a great tool in the bag and should absolutely be pursued, but my biggest encouragement would be to develop authentic, meaningful friendships with folks outside your race, socioeconomic background, and other factors. Just like a financial portfolio, diversify :)