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My Experience at the Commemoration of MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech

Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama

Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama

It is with much excitement that I write this blog post – a first for me – on the Cisco Inclusion and Diversity blog.  On August 27th I traveled from San Jose, CA to Washington D.C. to attend the 50th anniversary and commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic I Have a Dream speech held at the Lincoln Memorial.  Hopefully, many of you were able to watch the event, as it was truly a wonderful celebration of Dr. King’s legacy.  What I want to share with you is what I experienced being there on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 – standing in line at 7:00 am, through the event’s conclusion that afternoon.

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Standing in line all morning really paid off! We got great seats!

I arrived at the gate to the entrance of the event for individuals with tickets right around 7:00 am.  There were only a few of us there – myself, a group of what appeared to be three friends, a woman who was alone, and volunteers that were beginning to file in in white shirts and khaki pants. I immediately asked security if I was at the correct location and showed him my ticket.  He replied that I was in the right place, and that I should stand in line until they started letting people into the event at 9:00 am.

During the two hour wait I learned that one of the women in line was named Mo.  Mo was beaming with joy. It was Mo’s birthday, and she said there was no place she would rather be than at this event.  Two of the others in line were Andrea and Donna.  Andrea is a PhD student, and Donna is her friend – they sing in the church choir together.

In time we all began to talk – about from where we’d traveled, why we’d come, about trying to stay dry in the rain… It did start to rain, but we barely noticed.  Soon the press began to arrive.  There was a small group of female reporters standing close to us. They were from a radio station in Nassau, Bahamas, GEMS 105.9. The stations website promotes “Strengthening our WOMEN, and uplifting our MEN”.  One of the station’s DJ’s – Ghandi- asked if she could interview us, and asked each of us why we were there.  My response – “ I am a woman, I am black, I am a mother, and I work in Inclusion and Diversity.  Equal rights are always top of mind for me.  I am here to celebrate the work and sacrifices made by Dr. King and countless others involved in the civil rights movement.  I am here to reflect on the progress that has been made over the past 50 years.  I am here because Read More »

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Thermometer or Thermostat? MLK Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail

April 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm PST

Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell

 “…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;

…when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Martin Luther King Jr was a civil rights leader who transformed the conversation on race in the United States. He wrote this letter after being arrested while leading marches and sit-ins to protest racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Eight fellow clergymen of Alabama wrote an open letter asking him to cease his leadership of the demonstrations and to pursue justice through the courts. I was drawn to re-read the full text of the letter after reading Dr. Eric L. Motley’s essay, “On the 50th Anniversary, the Living Legacy of “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Motley writes:

its ideas transcend the turbulent times in which it was written. Civil rights historian Diane McWhorter notes that the original conflict “was between not good and evil, but good and normal.” The brute racism that strikes us today as mass social insanity Read More »

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Until Justice Rolls Down…On Martin Luther King Jr.

January 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm PST
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Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was commissioned to design the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lin found her inspiration in the words “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” a paraphrase from the Book of Amos that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used in his “I Have a Dream” speech and at the start of the Montgomery bus boycott. Photo used with permission from this source.

It was a printer jam that made me realize the full power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech.”  Growing up in the United States, I had studied Martin Luther King Jr’s  outsize impact on civil rights and American history.  That said, I had never heard the entire speech he gave in 1963  to 200,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Then, a few years ago, the printer at work jammed.  I pulled out the crumpled paper and power cycled it.  While I was waiting, I started reading the poster hanging in the hallway.  It was the full text of the “I Have A Dream” speech.  I was truly moved by the strength of the writing and the ideas it put forth.  I couldn’t believe that I had missed out on this powerful work for so long.  Kudos to people that put up guerilla art in offices!

Nancy Duarte does a great analysis of why the speech is so powerful.  I love her line about the speech “traversing back and forth between what is and what could be, and ending by describing what the new bliss of equality looks like.”

One of my favorite quotes from the speech is this: Read More »

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