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A new dream of awakening

Tuesday, October 20, 1998

By Tony Norman

If Martin Luther King Jr. had the opportunity to deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech before audiences today, it would go something like this:

"I still have a dream. It is deeply rooted in the American dream. But it is a dream that no longer requires the faith that sent our brothers and sisters into the vicious jaws of Birmingham police dogs a generation ago.

"It won't take as much faith in God as it once did, but it requires a faith in ourselves that we haven't evidenced since we first walked up this mountain together. It will take twice as much effort now that another generation has experienced the wilderness of disillusionment and despair.

"I have a dream of African Americans alive to the hope that swelled in our breasts a generation ago, when we were joined in the pursuit of a loving community with people of all colors, creeds and sexual preferences.

"Let us, with a holy dedication born of realism and a long and difficult history, link hearts and minds as we wade into the waters of the new millennium, dreaming this dream together.

"I have a dream that once again, we'll take up the yoke of responsibility, not as a monolithic group, but as individuals endowed by our creator with the will to make this dream the American dream.

"It's up to you, and not prophets and street corner hucksters, to usher in an era of peace and economic justice. Don't look to me or Jesse or the president or entitlements to actualize a life of equality for you.

"Even the best among us has feet of clay. I know I'll have to give an account for what I've done. But the dream isn't dependent on whether I'm a sinner or not. It transcends even my imperfections.

"It has been ever thus since the days of Moses and Lao-Tse, since Jesus and Gandhi. As much as it pains me to be mentioned in their great company, I'd prefer you forget about me rather than name another boulevard in my honor if it will prevent the dream from languishing until the next prophet comes along.

"Many of us remember the dark days of segregation, when American law made distinctions between individuals and groups based on race. Those were terrible days, as evil as any we've seen since our nation's founding.

"Now, after decades of struggle, we stand before the bar of justice, if not the police, in rough equality with whites. Yet, some of our children feel the weight of oppression more intensely than we ever did because racism is still with us.

"To those who feel they can't take another step until their existence is affirmed by every Caucasian from Simi Valley to Scarsdale, we say: Get over it!

"No one has a right to expect nirvana without working for it. This generation has supped far too long from materialism's dirty trough.

"I have a dream that one day the words of intellectuals, poets and writers will mean more to our youth than basketball and the soul-killing stuff that dominates the airwaves.

"I have a dream that one day the library stalls from Compton to the Bronx will be filled with young people panting desperately for knowledge late into the night. One day, youngsters weighed down by books and academic workloads will outnumber those pushing baby strollers by 10,000 to one.

"On that day, there will be no need for drugs, street gangs or excuses. On that day, we will finally speak confidently of having truly overcome the world. We hold these dreams to be self-evident. We have a dream."

Tony Norman's e-mail is: tnorman@post-gazette.com

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