“I Want to Live”–Dreams Deferred

At noon yesterday I was part of a small protest held in remembrance of George Floyd and to protest police brutality. It was local, in the neighborhood next to mine, in the  heart of the Westside of Chicago, at the corner of Pulaski and Jackson, where nearly every household (if not every single one) has either a personal or a family experience of police harassment or brutality.*

At our small gathering the young people in our midst–all of them from the Westside–led the protest, shouting “No justice/no peace,” “I can’t breathe” and “Mama, help me.” Passersby in cars (and one CTA bus driver) honked in solidarity and people walking by raised fists to show support. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man and woman walk by with their two children. Each child wore two pieces of poster paper sandwich-board style, with words written on the poster paper. I was only able to read one sign before they were gone, hidden by the crowd.

“I want to live.”

Those parents had dressed their children in the most fundamental and basic of the dreams that parents have for their children. I know they’re also dreaming of their children thriving, of their actually being seen for who they are, of the unique giftedness each has being equally valued and fostered… But there are also days when the only dream that can be held onto is that of sheer survival. They don’t want to see their children die. They don’t want to outlive them. They don’t want to get word of their violent death or see it splashed across the news. They don’t want them to get degrees, get jobs, move into neighborhoods less riddled by violence, only to see them harassed and possibly killed by an altercation with a white person or police.

On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed his dreams for his own children and all African American children.

Nearly sixty years after that speech–sixty years–and parents in my neighborhood are still dreaming simply that their children will survive. The other dreams–those bigger ones that are supposed to be “normal” for parents to dream for their children in this country–those dreams have been deferred, again and again.

I have been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dreams a lot in the last month. Probably the parents of those two children I saw today have been thinking about them as well.

But poet Langston Hughes also talked about dreams, and in the last few days it’s his words that have been echoing in my mind, over and over.

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

 

To read all of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, click on this link: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom 

The poem by Langston Hughes is “Harlem” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates, Inc. It was copied from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46548/harlem

*One Sunday a couple years back when I was visiting a local church, the pastor asked the congregation how many either had a personal or family experience of police harassment/brutality. Only two people did not raise their hands; those people were my husband and I, the only two white people present. The pastor raised his hand as well.

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