I had a dream that I was meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for lunch at a small, family owned, soul food restaurant on the poorer side of town. I sat at the table reading a book when I noticed him walk through the door and address the greeter stationed at the entrance. She directed him to our table and he began to walk towards me, formally dressed in his customary black suit & tie.
There were two things that I couldn’t help but observe as he walked through the eatery. The first was that no one stopped the pioneering civil rights leader as he walked in. A few people looked his way but the vast majority of the customers there were oblivious to his presence. Though he is one of the most renowned leaders in the history of the world, though his name has been both regarded and repeated for decades, though nations around the world lift up his name and his legacy, his presence was unfamiliar to the customers. It was as if no one recognized him for who he was.
The second thing I noticed, as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, was the look of hurt on his face. His face creased with pain and the lines on it saturated with fresh tears, he looked to carry weariness with him as he took his seat. As he sat, a server took drink orders for the table next to ours; offering them their choice of wine or champagne to start out.
Saddened to see one so strong and vigilant in such a weakened and worn state, I sought to simultaneously inquire and encourage. “Dr. King, what could possibly be wrong?” I asked. “You, in many ways, have become the most iconic, most distinguishable person in the world. The Civil Rights movement that you played such an integral role in has influenced other cultures and countries to pursue their own liberation. Your “I Have A Dream” speech is one of the most heard speeches in the history of modern oration. Your life’s work has not only left impressions that can be felt around the globe but has also contributed to a higher quality of life for our people in this present day. Your efforts in the arena of civil rights are directly responsible for the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, as well as our current president, Barack Obama. Your name is celebrated by millions, and you just had a birthday that was celebrated by billions more. You, sir, are easily one of the most popular people on the planet. Why do you look so upset”?
Dr. King, slowly raised his head to look me in my eyes, showing the seriousness in what was about to be his response. “My young brother, my heart bleeds and breaks today because despite the efforts of myself and others , despite all of the sacrifices that were made….despite the countless lives that were given for the sake of freedom, we have become a people who have confused our cause and put more priority on popularity than progress. As he spoke, new tears began to take the place of the older ones on his face. “My brother”, he continued, “the state of our people is a sad one. We are a culture content with complaining about a world that we have the power to change”. “Too many who lift up our struggle have forgotten what it is that we were fighting for…”.
As he spoke, we were politely interrupted by our server. “Pardon me for interrupting; I just wanted to know if I could bring you both something to drink. Perhaps a Bud or a Bud Light? Maybe a Heineken to start things off”? We decline her offer opting for water instead. As our waitress walked away, Dr. King quietly smiled to himself, as if he were reacting to the punch line of a joke only he could hear.
“This was never about getting a seat at the table” he continued. “But more about how we should be treated once we got there”. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exhaled a sarcastic chuckle as he slowly stood to his feet. I stood as well and, as I rose, he extended his hand for me to shake. “The tragic truth is that no one says anything about it anymore..” he concluded, as he nodded his head in disbelief, “because they don’t see anything wrong with it”. His final words of the moment spoken, Dr. King slowly walked out of the café, and as the door closed, the sounds of the restaurant patrons laughing and enjoying themselves, the sounds of champagne glasses toasting and mood music playing, rose to a deafening level. The relaxed easiness of the establishment became white noise to me and, as suddenly as my dream had begun, it ended.
I woke up and wanted to tell everyone about the dream I had. But, as I looked around, I realized that I couldn’t. I saw that everyone else around me was asleep comfortably.
Derrick Holmes is a R3 Contributor
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