What Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Has to Do with Down Syndrome

What Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Has to Do with Down Syndrome January 16, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. He expressed that dream in terms of race, but I suspect he could have expressed it on behalf of individuals with disabilities as well. He said,

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.

I have a dream today.

. . . I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

(Watch the full speech here.)

I share Dr. King’s dream. It’s a dream about what Jesus called the kingdom of God, the place where heaven comes to earth, where what is good and right and true overcomes jealousy and corruption and selfishness and greed. I share this dream as men and women continue to work for reconciliation among the races. I share this dream as women and men address the concerns of inequity among the social classes in America. I share this dream as women and men fight for the rights of fellow human beings trapped in slavery and oppression around the globe. Finally, I share this dream for my daughter with Down syndrome, and for all the other sons and daughters in this nation and around the world who live with a disability.

I have a dream for them.

I have a dream that individuals with disabilities, be they cognitive or physical, will be seen as a normal part of the human community, with needs and with gifts to offer.

I have a dream that one day, little girls will not be denied a kidney transplant from the best children’s hospital in our country as a result of being labeled “mentally retarded.”

I have a dream that the systematic abuse and degradation of people with disabilities in state institutions will cease.

I have a dream that the word “retarded” will fall out of use by comedians and that major news outlets will begin to use people-first language. I have a dream that the way we talk will reflect the reality that individuals with disabilities are citizens with equal rights and equal value to every other member of our society.

I have a dream that our government will provide the 25 million dollars promised in funding to support the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Awareness Act (also known as the Kennedy-Brownback bill) to provide women with up-to-date and accurate information about prenatal tests. For four years, that Act has remained unfunded while at the same time the government has provided millions of dollars to research and develop prenatal tests which often lead to the abortion of fetuses with disabilities.

I have a dream that parents of typical children will desire the inclusion of children with disabilities in classrooms across the nation because of the mutual benefit to all children involved.

I have a dream that abortions based upon a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome will cease not because they have become illegal but because mothers and fathers feel empowered and encouraged to choose life, because doctors and genetic counselors see the great potential of individuals with Down syndrome and communicate those possibilities to frightened family members.

I have a dream that the children with the most severe disabilities will be received as gifts by our entire community, that we will learn to care for, and receive from, everyone in our midst, regardless of cognition, strength, or skill.

I have a dream that we will stop asking, “What can s/he do?” and instead ask, “What does s/he love?” I have a dream that we will learn to love one another regardless of ability.

I too have a dream.

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