We Have A Dream

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On August 28, 1963 – 50 years ago to the day – Martin Luther King, Jr gave his I Have a Dream speech in Washington, DC.

Interestingly, he began that speech by referencing President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from “fivescore years ago” (January 1, 1863).  His speech was, to some degree, a State of Civil Rights 100 years following Emancipation.

This month many publications have taken up this topic… what is the State of Civil Rights 50 years following the I Have a Dream proclamation.  Or, maybe more accurately, what is the State of The Dream 50 years following The Dream.

A few thoughts on how MTR, education and The Dream collide:

1. What exactly is The American Dream?

” ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’  This is the dream.

(The American Dream, MLK commencement address at Lincoln University, June 6, 1961)

At this commencement address given two years prior to his I Have a Dream speech, Dr. King then quickly made three observations regarding The Dream upon which America was founded:

a. An Amazing Universalism: It does not say some men, but it says all men.”

b. It is God-given: What ultimately distinguishes our form of government from all of the totalitarian regimes that emerge in history… it says that each individual has certain basic rights that are neither conferred by nor derived from the state.  For they are God-given.  Very seldom if ever in the history of the world has a political document expressed in such language the dignity and worth of human personality.  The American Dream reminds us that every man is heir to the legacy of worthiness.”

So, the American Dream is a political promise that all people have God-given rights that affirm each person’s worth and, as such, mandates a society that allows for the fair and equal pursuit of justice and happiness (peace) for all who live within her borders.

c. There is an American Dilemma with our American Dream- “Slavery and segregation have been strange paradoxes in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal.  This is what is referred to as the American Dilemma.”

2. Education:

Of course, we would say The Dilemma continues today.  While great strides have been made in the past 50 years (see below evidences of progress since 1963 as well as a link to the article Waking Life, both from this week’s Economist magazine), there is certainly still a duality to the offer of justice and peace for all of our citizens.

We know too well the contrast in educational opportunities and achievement in the US.  Just last week the ACT Testing company released its 2013 annual report.  Their analysis of the 1.7 million student’s 2012-2013 scores showed that only 25% of test takers were deemed “college ready”.  When broken down by race, ACT found the following percentages of college readiness nationally: African-Americans-5%; Hispanic-14%; White-33%; and, Asian-Americans 43%.

We do not yet have MCS’ average ACT scores for 2013.  However, we do know that in all four of our partner neighborhood high schools the 2012 average ACT ranged between a 14-15, well below the estimated 20 needed to be considered college ready and significantly below the average scores of the highest performing school in our community (Houston High; 24.6).

3. MTR:

We, too, have a Dream.

First, as Christians, our dream is the certain Meta-Vision (vision above all visions) of all things made right, restored and redeemed under the reign of Jesus Christ as revealed in God’s Word.  We dream of a world that honors Christ.  We dream of a city where suffering is relieved and all individuals are dignified, empowered contributors to the welfare of the entire community. We dream of a society where people of all races and classes will live and engage with one another in peace.  And unlike our nightly dreams, we get the privilege of actively participating in this dream by bringing the vision to partial reality within our city, empowered by God’s Spirit, until Christ returns and perfectly completes this work.

Similarly, MLK said in this same commencement address, “God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race and in the creation of a society where all men can live together as brothers, where every man will respect the dignity and the worth of human personality.”

Second, as MTR educators, we work to align our daily practice with the grand vision above.  Our practice (our mission) is to recruit, train, and support (and staff and retain) effective teachers so that EVERY CHILD – particularly those in the lowest income communities – will be provided with the SAME QUALITY (or better) EDUCATION as any other child in Memphis receives.  Our participation in the dream is to place effective teachers and resources in partner community K-12 feeder patterns so that children who historically have underperformed academically will learn and achieve at the same, or higher, rate as any student in our city.  Our mission is to offer the “least” the best through 12 years of exceptional elementary and secondary education… the best the city has to offer.

Now here’s the point…as the mission is accomplished (and it is beginning to happen) so is the vision accomplished.  Here’s how:

  • God will be honored for the blessing that comes through His people;
  • Fear and mistrust among races and classes will slowly erode and people will become more likely to enjoy, engage and live with one another; 
  • Dignity and the “inheritance of worthiness” will be received among all people; and,
  • Those historically marginalized will become fully participating contributors and citizens of our city, enjoying and creating the best the city has to offer.

And so our daily mission of planning, organizing, teaching, line leading, lunch room duty, grading, lesson planning, loving children and admin, coaching, advising, smiling… is perfectly aligned to our grand vision for life – for the purpose for which we were created.  Which, for me, gives great wind to my sails in the hardest parts of the work.

This is our hope and prayer.  Happy 50th Anniversary.