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January 20, 2013, Sunday

What is your dream?

“I have a dream,” said my 8 year old at our breakfast table. “Hunters don’t kill animals.” “I have a dream,” my 9 year old chimed in. “No child dies from hunger.” I think it was their way of commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday.

“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,” declared Martin Luther King Jr. His dream was probably most notably fulfilled when Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the US. If King were alive today, seeing President Obama’s second inauguration would have gratified him.

An American clergyman, activist and important leader in the African-American civil rights movement, in 1964, at age 35, Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was recognized for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination using nonviolent methods. He followed the teachings of pre-eminent political and ideological leader Mahatma Gandhi. He even died the same way Gandhi did: Both were assassinated.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live,” and devoted his entire life to seeking racial equality and human rights. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, and since then about 900 cities in the US have named local streets after him. Memphis, finally, became one of them last year. Memphis officials have approved a move to name a key downtown street after King more than 40 years after his death. “The street re-naming is being seen by many Memphians as a symbol that the city is taking steps to heal the wound caused by the assassination,” The Associated Press indicated.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom,” King said as he worked hard to stop the Vietnam War, which eventually ended after King’s death. Although there have been other wars since then in US history, we can be hopeful for peace since the Iraq War eventually ended.

King also focused on poverty. Yet, in terms of King’s dream, I don’t know how successful the US has been on poverty; America’s poverty is worsening. The low-skill, high-wage jobs that used to prevent poverty in the 20th century are largely gone. In The New York Times, Sam Roberts indicated in September 2012 that “the rich got richer and the poor got poorer in New York City last year as the poverty rate reached its highest point in more than a decade, and the income gap in Manhattan, already wider than almost anywhere else in the country, rivaled disparities in sub-Saharan Africa.”

On the other hand, The New York Times writer Katherine Schulten was critical about civil rights history education in the US. She said: “American students are less proficient in history than in any other subject over all. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, however, civil rights history is an especially neglected topic in schools.” Schulten continued, “This time of the year, as teachers consider how to address Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month, we wonder how you teach about the civil rights movement.” Her aim was to start an online discussion on the subject.

It seems things are not really going well in the US or in the whole world, and there is still so much to be done for a better future. I think we need more (wo)men with dreams! I would like to walk from the Lincoln Memorial to the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial if I were in Washington, D.C., today right after President Obama’s second inauguration and try to imagine King as he made his speech.

“The time is always right to do what is right,” said King. This is a good day to ask ourselves what our dreams are and to start following them. Really, have you thought about your dreams recently?

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