“I Have a Dream…”

Posted by Roberta Grimes • June 27, 2020 • 14 Comments
Human Nature, Slavery

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.
When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words
of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,
they were signing a promissory note to which every American
was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men –
ck men as well as white men –
would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) from “I Have a Dream…” (1963)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the greatest American of the twentieth century. The more time passes since Dr. King’s death, the higher his stature has come to rise; and watching that happen within the memory of people who recall him as a living crusader feels the way it must have felt when the United States began to revere as its Founding Fathers all those contentious Revolution-era politicians. I was in college when Dr. King was assassinated. I had come to love the man, so waking up to find that he had been killed was the biggest devastation of my young life. But when later that morning I used the word “assassinated” in reference to Dr. King, I was confronted by an outraged Southern classmate. She shouted that he had been just a criminal and not a public figure at all so he didn’t deserve that honored term. I learned on the morning after Dr. King’s death the extent of the evil under which he had lived.

And now the descendants of slavery among us confront another potential evil that may be almost as harmful to them as has been the frank racism I glimpsed that day. While clueless rioters rush to destroy even the revered statues of genuine heroes, they mostly ignore – and they even betray – the very people they claim to most want to help. Well-meaning people in academia, too, tell us now that we all must grovel and atone for the mess that America’s race relations have been, while apparently hardly giving a thought to the fact that all these problems have human causes and therefore they can be healed. For the first time in history, now we know for certain that there is one human race, which means that every apparent difference between people with varying shades of skin is the result of America’s prior mistakes. So in fact, all these renewed efforts to find and punish racism in our culture without attempting to altogether eliminate it can only be based on the false assumption that those with darker skin are in some ways deficient. To try to make Americans atone for racism rather than destroying the remnants of it is the tragic modern equivalent of my college classmate’s racist rage.

The progress toward full equality that Dr. King’s movement began in the Sixties had largely stalled before this century began. There are important reasons why this happened, and emphatically those reasons can be addressed! Indeed, for all of us to work together to make of this nation a truly colorblind society is what most modern descendants of slavery want. It is the least that they deserve, and it surely is what mercy demands! An entirely race-free future will be our ultimate triumph over all the horrors of slavery and racism that have so tragically soiled our past. It will give us at last our shining gateway to the free and equal nation that the wisdom of our Founders envisioned, and that Dr. King’s courage and strength began.

Last week we described six reasons for the racial inequality that still burdens the descendants of slavery in the United States. There may be other causes too, but to effectively address these six alone would make such a difference that it might well take us most of the way to that longed-for free and equal nation. This effort to establish in the United States a new era of racial equality can be advanced by using three initiatives. For various reasons they will need to be led not by governments, but rather by private foundations. And surely there can be no greater charitable goal than this effort to help the United States to fulfill at last its founding promises!


We never can have real racial equality until we have fully emancipated the minds of a whole generation of slavery’s descendants. This should have happened a hundred and fifty years ago, but it is not too late. It can happen now. Every U.S. citizen born between, say, 2020 and 2040 with an ancestor who once was held here in slavery will be eligible to receive an extraordinary education from birth through graduate school. It will be important that we work closely with the parents and offer individual enrichment and empowerment during those crucial first five years of life. And our model for elementary and secondary schools might be the Success Academies which began in 2006 in Harlem and have grown to 45 charter schools with 17,000 students in the New York City area. There have been efforts by some to limit the use of charter schools by the economically disadvantaged, but the methods pioneered by the Success Academies have resulted in such extraordinary educational achievements for children who might otherwise have failed in public schools that for this project nothing less will do. Our goal will be to give to this first emancipated generation the same quality of educational and personal empowerment that they could have had if they had been born into America’s most successful families.

Fully emancipating one generation of slavery’s modern descendants can all by itself entirely re-set race relations in the United States. These children will be our much-loved new beginning, with each of them nurtured and adored by every American of good will. If we do for them what we should have done for their freshly freed ancestors, we can now and for all future time eradicate the ill effects of our having so badly bungled the first century and a half after slavery was abolished, including the Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the War on Poverty’s destruction of the black family. We can in one stroke effectively address five of the six errors that we listed last week!  And importantly, in doing this we will be creating a powerful new image for all black Americans. Today, if you walk down a street and see a group of young black men ahead, your first reaction is likely to be to assume they are a gang of toughs. Perhaps you even might cross the street. But twenty years from now, you will be walking down that same street and see a group of young black men ahead, and you will assume they must be college students. Very soon in the United States the appearance of having African ancestry will become a certain marker for elevated status and greater success.


While we are beginning our better long-term future by at last emancipating a full generation of slavery’s youngest descendants, there is a lot that we can do to improve the lives of these children’s family members. This second initiative will ideally be led by those who best understand the communities being served, and Americans who want to be part of the solution are going to find a lot to do! Three-quarters of black children today are born to single mothers, many of whom can benefit from assistance and mentoring; and older children may well need some tutoring and tuition help. With a third of black men now cycling into and out of prison, we can seek and find ways to help people wronged by that system to build some success and satisfaction into their later lives. And in everything we do we must never forget, not even for a moment, that every modern descendant of slavery is precisely who we are ourselves. There will be no limit to what they can do, once we give them the gift of a better beginning.


No matter whatever else we might do, the only way for us to entirely heal America’s racial wounds will be with a complete reform of our horrendous criminal justice system. Next week we will commemorate the 244th birthday of the United States, so we will pause then for a celebration of what could have been and still might be. Then the following week we will devote some time to talking about how we can and why we must reinvent criminal justice in America if we are ever to make racial justice possible.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” We are seeing now how right he was! And the best way to honor this brilliant and selfless man who lived and died for righteousness will be for all of us to come together, every American of every shade, and build at last the better nation that its original Founding Fathers imagined and its twentieth-century Founding Father has given us the vision to at last achieve. It is time for those of us who have inherited the world’s oldest constitutional republic to help it live up to its founding promises so it can at last become a beacon of freedom and hope for all the world.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, 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… I have a dream that one day
in Alabama, with its vicious racists,
with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification,
one day right in Alabama little black boys and black girls
will he abl
e to join hands with little white boys and white girls
as sisters and brothers.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) from “I Have a Dream…” (1963)

MLK statue photo credit: Brook-Ward <a href=”″>MLK</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

Roberta Grimes
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14 thoughts on ““I Have a Dream…”

  1. Good morning
    Thank you Roberta for a well thought out presentation. I’m not sure I totally agree with the education suggested; however, it is certainly a lot of food for thought and education and enlightening of ones mind is of the most importance. The primary reason it am withholding total agreement is partially because of our current education system 0-through PHD.. It’s tragic, actually much worse than tragic.

    Public School systems MUST be shut down & a lot of thought on a national level needs to look at alternatives of a completely ruined system. (I served as chair on 2 school boards, 6 yrs on each board)
    This was back in the later 80’s and at that time the entire system was in total disrepair. Most Universities and Colleges are turning out Closed Minded Individual boys and girls. Please notice boys and girls rather than men and women.
    Our National Justice System is in a shambles with 2 to 3 tiers of law being applied. This cannot stand. This System must first be put in order for anything to succeed. Judges disbarred, Lawyers lose their licenses, and numeral laws removed from the books. Complete over haul at Local, State, Federal and Supreme Court level. Nothing is operating the way that it is supposed too.
    Prisons need to be cleaned out and prisoners actually helped to start a new life. We have those the were setup by legal authorities and those that belong only in jail and those who can be assimilated into society.
    However, in closing, the first thing the MUST BE ACCOMPLISHED prior to any movement is this: Local, State & Federal elected officials MUST be REMOVED FROM OFFICE. A breathing period must be allowed within the US where the entire Nation can better understand what this Country Stands for and that we are a REPUBLIC with a CONSTITUTION. We are NOT a Democracy. This basic understanding of what we are is of the greatest importance. This subject is much to complicated to enter into during this discussion; however, IMHO if we don’t clean out government of the near total criminal corruption, nothing will work and we are going down the drain. I think there is hope… I think the draining is taking place as I pen these thoughts, I hope so for all’s sake..

    1. Oh dear Skip, I don’t think anyone can disagree with the fact that our entire educational system in the United States is at this point catastrophically bad. Your points are well made, and if anything they understate the disastrous case. But after we have delayed emancipation for 150 years – which is at least seven generations! – I don’t think we have the right to delay it for another generation or two with the hope that we can fix everything. Do you? I say we must never let the perfect be the enemy of the good! We may in the end have to create our own string of private charter schools, perhaps with the descendants of slavery admitted by right and with maybe ten percent of the students admitted by lottery from the general population. Something like that. But the Success Academies demonstrably work! And they give us a great place to begin.

      And our prison system – state as well as federal – is far worse than anyone reading this can imagine. And it isn’t even two-tiered! No, if a determined federal prosecutor gets you in his sites (they are nearly all white men), you are going to be plea-bargained into spending time in prison, no matter how rich you are and no matter how white you are. Even no matter how innocent you are. As Mike Flynn could tell you, all they have to do is threaten to charge you with even worse crimes and go for maybe a twenty-year sentence if you insist on a trial, but just five years if you plead guilty. Still refuse to plead? Okay, unless you plead guilty we will charge your son, too, even if his only crime is being your son. Trust me on this: they will find your right buttons and push them. You will give in.

      But again, as with education, that ideal wholesale, top-to-bottom housecleaning that is sorely needed in our criminal justice system is not going to happen easily, and we cannot allow this monstrous evil to destroy millions more lives for yet another generation or two so we can do things perfectly. Next week I will make some proposals that can be adopted within the present system and would make a tremendous positive difference for every American.

      This is the United States of America! Let’s start acting as if our founding ideals still matter.

  2. NO ONE should be FORCED to plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit to get a lesser sentence! That whole concept makes me so angry. In Iowa, if you commit a crime and they take you to jail for 1st degree theft, but you ended up being charged with a lesser crime, it stays on the books as 1st degree theft; the reason being that the judge is not in a good mood today and if you want to speak to him in his courtroom, you will probably spend a couple years in jail. I know someone that happened to and they won’t EVER remove 1st degree theft (felony) from the books….if that makes sense. So you pay your lawyer $1000’s of dollars to defend you, pay off the parole board and you are free to go home, but no one will hire you when they see the FELONY charge on your record.

    I personally had a situation where 2 cops came to my house and told my 15 year old daughter she could go ahead and leave the house after I told her she couldn’t. She was going to a drinking party downtown. She left home that day, because the cop told her she could leave if she wanted, so I made her take all of her belongings with her and when I called the police department to get a copy of the trip to my home, there was no trip report. The cop tore it up. THAT was crooked! I was going to request a CINA (Child in Need of Assistance) on her, but no trip meant I couldn’t get her the help she needed and she was out of control and had just delivered a dead baby. I was devastated and angry! So, yes, there is much corruption in the police department, but not all cops are bad either; some just overstep their bounds.

  3. Oh dear Nancy, I think we all agree upon what justice and honor require, and unless we become involved with the criminal justice system we naively believe that justice and honor are priorities in the United States, and indeed in every other Western country. But between the police unions protecting the few bad actors, and the fact that 97% of federal prisoners are strong-armed into plea-bargaining and then doing time in prison, Americans do not any longer have access to the justice and honor that we deserve. We’ll be talking further about this in a couple of weeks.

  4. Rich thinking and suggestions here.

    Re the mistakes made in bringing Africans here, bringing them as slaves was of course immoral, but God does not make mistakes. Our African American citizens have distinguished themselves in every venue of life, from the military, to the arts, to academe. Justice Thomas may be considered one of our best sitting SCt justices. They have added to American culture, and forced attention to morality.

    Re education, college and grad school are not the best productive types of learning for all, Black or White. The colleges keying off of federal student loan support have managed to raise their salaries beyond merit, and do so by bringing in students and keeping them, even when they simply lack academic interest or capability. House member Ocasio-Cortez, for example, graduated from Boston U with majors in International Relations and Economics, yet appears uninformed on both. An alternate educational path is provided by technical training.

    And our schools, K thru grad, are now populated with teachers who no doubt are idealistic, but whose financial interests have been entwined with liberal, progressive Democrats creating bad education and bad politics. Frankly, the federal government needs to reduce student lending for college and increase support for tech training; private school education, K-12, needs to be supported to break the harmful monopoly of unionized public school teachers with their automatic support for all Democrat candidates.

  5. Dear Jack, thank you for your thoughts! And especially for your lovely comments about all the descendants of slavery who so much enrich American life. They are a blessing in so many ways, and this even when they have been so much kept down and kept back for so long. They bless us in the arts, academia, and the judiciary, true. And a million black Americans served in WWII, even despite Jim Crow and all their legal limitations! No, God doesn’t make mistakes. But God does allow us to do some horrific things on earth, and I don’t think we will really understand why that is until we have gone home.

    Of course, this isn’t about education primarily, but rather it is about using the emancipation of one generation of slavery’s descendants to give race relations in America a new beginning. Many of the descendants of slavery have emancipated themselves over the past 150 years, and of course they have then raised their children as free people. Still, far too many still remain mentally limited by their inadvertent childhood indoctrination, and we have both the responsibility and the power to set that right!

    Our educational system in the United States is indeed so bad that in order to do this right, we will need to create a private system of sufficient quality to enable us to properly educate all these deserving children. It looks like a pretty daunting task, which is why the fact that there are some good charter schools which cater primarily to black children (the Success Academies aren’t the only ones) might enable us to make more of a running start. But no matter how daunting the task, it will be so much worth it! Envision a new America, based on justice and brotherhood. Won’t seeing that at last come real make Dr. King smile!

  6. Hello. Thought I’d write here because I figured with the new blog post you would not see my response to what you wrote to me.

    I saw the Chris Rock video, and had a nice laugh.

    I saw your note on the virus, and while I disagree with you I hope you are right, because I don’t want Texas to have a hard time of it.

    And, this is my last post. My spiritual journey is taking me elsewhere. Have a nice life.

    1. Dear Jason W., I hope the virus is abating as well! And it does indeed seem to be becoming less virulent. It seems to be primarily a threat to the elderly and infirm, so those states that have been careful to protect their vulnerable seem to be having a much easier time of it. News feeds have been talking about the fact that some states – New York and New Jersey are two of these – had been putting Covid-positive patients into nursing homes, while some other states – Florida and Texas included – had been protecting their elderly and infirm from the beginning. And the difference in results for these two different approaches is astonishing! Here are the death rates per 100,000 of population in each of these four states as of 6/26/20: 167 in New Jersey, 161 in New York, 15 in Florida, and 8 in Texas. So the death rates overall for – for example – New York and Texas are very different indeed! The death rate per 100,000 in Texas is literally 5% of what it is in New York (where it still looks pretty low to me), and the difference seems to be primarily the states’ very different treatment of their vulnerable populations.

      We are all on different journeys, Jason! I hope you are being drawn toward whatever most resonates with your own beautiful heart.

  7. This is very thoughtful and thought provoking Roberta – much to contemplate. I didn’t know you were such a policy wonk. 🙂 I was trying to get my bearings on such a huge topic, but felt a bit out to sea. What finally came to mind seems to be the crux of it for me. Real change almost always seems to come from the bottom up, from mass movements or the grassroots, doesn’t it? Then, with luck, are laid the “foundations” of new laws, institutions, or social norms. These movements so often have been sparked by great, charismatic leaders who inspire by the depth of their spirituality and vision – their desire to be of service rather than self serving. People like St. Francis, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind. Where will the next great change-bringer or way-shower come from? There seems to be so much spiritual and moral decay in the world at this time that such people have become a rare breed. Is this the darkest before the dawn? Can spiritual renewal lead to societal renewal? I hope so. This is where I see the huge value of the work that folks like you are doing – to help create that gestalt of spiritual understanding and vision from which the next great leader may emerge. Maybe you, or one of the people you have taught, will be the inspiration for that person. Hope springs eternal. May MLK’s dream that we learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) come to pass. 🙏 ♥️ 💫

    1. Heh – dear Scott, I have been called many things, but “policy wonk” is a new one on me! It was Thomas who first spurred me to investigate race as an issue – it was something he wanted to do as Jefferson, but never managed to get his mind around – and my co-author of The Fun of Living Together, Kelley Glover, was, Thomas says, someone else who knew him in his Jefferson lifetime. I do indeed think that all these problems have potential very effective spiritual solutions; and the week after next, we will look at solving what is currently the worst of our remaining racial problems.

  8. Hi Roberta, hi everybody! I will just add to what Scott says above that people are always the ones to implement real change before institutional support gets onboard.

    The important thing about what is proposed here is its holistic approach. Starting back at “Day 1,” the question is, how would this transformation effectively be implemented? But we do have a head start because there have been instances of the kind of cultural mindset shift needed, and those can be applied to inspire. No need to start from “Day 1.” Best of all, this generation of new parents (if my non-scientific sample of my children, nieces and nephews and their friends can serve as an example) already views the 21st century world through a lens of diversity and inclusion that is different from what we would imagine. They are in the driver’s seat.

    1. Yes indeed, today’s young parents are as a group breathtakingly open-minded and open-hearted. I look at my grandchildren’s parents, and I find them to be overwhelmingly wise and beautiful; they say that parents are the bows that launch their children as arrows, and I never imagined that the young people I was launching would become the amazing people that they are!

  9. Dearest Roberta,
    I find this post to be as breathtaking in its expansiveness as it is in its vision of healing, inclusion and humanity.

    I imagine a rainbow, a great airy arc, of seven glorious colors glowing in a scintillation of joy. Each color has its own unique radiance and standing together they form a graceful curve; a high, protective arch over all who behold it. The rainbow shows us of the wonder that is this world, if we would but see it.

    In a way humanity is a magnificent spectrum of many kinds. It is oneness amid diversity. Humans are of many hues and shades from milky cream to deepest brown. We are on a spectrum of intelligence; both IQ and EQ varies greatly across the population. Even those things we refer to as mental disorders and learning difficulties, may be viewed as natural variation on the awareness spectrum. We are of differing types of analytical and emotional, or empirical and creative, in our brain makeup. We are both extroverts and introverts and combinations of both. We now know that variation certainly exists across human sexuality. The myriad hues that typify and enhance our humanity can clearly be celebrated as colors in a rainbow.

    Roberta, I guess what I’m feeling is that in our pure form we are very bright beings. Each color is distinctly seen in a rainbow but when they fuse together, what shines is clear illumination. Everything pours into clear, unsullied light.

    The blog strategy to cover the education of those Americans with at least one ancestor indentured to slavery, is an effective way to end disadvantage and complete emancipation. It clears a pathway to success in this world that can be followed by each new generation. This strategy is doable. This is very important. And if one color isn’t shining as brightly as the others, the rainbow cannot transform into clear Light.

  10. Dear Efrem, I think it can be done as well! And if we can use vouchers and other forms of government help, it might not even be outrageously expensive. We have floated the idea to a few billionaires – long story – and had some early interest, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day! This project would need its own dedicated leaders, much younger and able to work at it full-time.

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