This month, our nation pauses to look up to a man who was looked down on for the majority of his brief life. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 5 feet 6 inches tall. But his stature as a civil rights activist still renders him a giant 55 years after his death at the age of 39.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the dream Dr. King so eloquently articulated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of some 250,000 people. Many of us can recite portions of that famous speech that pictured a future day when the content of a person’s character matters more than the color of their skin. How could we have known that less than three months after Dr. King voiced his vision, our beloved President John F. Kennedy would be gunned down in Dallas by the hate that violently stalked our country? All the same, Dr. King’s dream was swallowed up by a national nightmare.
Well, that was 1963. A century earlier in 1861, another member of a minority group verbalized a dream for our country. It was a dream that was cast against the backdrop of racial strife and a bloody civil war. Her name was Julia Ward Howe.
After visiting President Lincoln in the White House, this abolitionist and women’s rights activist put pen to paper. Her vision for a deeply divided country was captured in a poetic expression that portrayed a preferred future. The republic she envisioned would benefit from a focused understanding of the past as well as from looking forward to what might yet be.
Mrs. Howe’s eyes saw the glory of the coming of the Lord where the values of God’s Kingdom would become the values of America. She set her lyrics to a well-known military tune (John Brown’s Body). Less than a year later (in February 1862), “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” would be published for the first time in the Atlantic Monthly.
Although these two visions for America were separated by more than a hundred years, both Dr. King’s dream and Julia Ward Howe’s dream share something in common. Both dreams were conceived and birthed in the Willard Hotel just a couple of blocks from the White House. Isn’t that amazing? That historic structure on Pennsylvania Avenue, where presidents, international statesmen and entertainers have stayed, is a tangible reminder of dreams yet to be fully realized.
Racial injustice, political division, religious persecution, gun violence and spiritual apathy continue to pollute our national landscape. They, among other things, are to blame for dreams remaining dreams instead of becoming a reality. The words of both dreamers are needed now more than ever. But they are not the only words that are needed.
While Dr. King’s dream and Mrs. Howe’s vision for America are well-known, they are not the only pictures of a preferred future worth framing. I have a dream for what our nation should look like. I’m guessing you do, too.
Our dreams may never be set to music or be engraved in limestone in the Washington D.C., but they are worthy of being written down. They are worthy of being shared and discussed within our spheres of influence.
This year, instead of coming up with personal resolutions for a new year, why not try your hand a documenting your dream for America? Or how about an acrostic that conveys what our nation needs to thrive?
Here’s mine: America Must Embrace Righteousness, Integrity, Compassion and Accountability. What’s yours?
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.