We Have Dreams: what MLK Day means to us

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looking pensive with hand to face, white text on purple background: our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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.

Imagining peace

Last week, 11-year-old Brian was asked to bring this famous quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to life. He started by drawing a large circle. Then he colored in blotches of green and blue to represent our earth. Slowly, he started adding stick figures around the globe, some black; some white; some brown. All of them were standing arm in arm in unity.

Brian’s picture is in a scrapbook, along with other hand-drawn images from children who attend LifeWire’s weekly support group. The kiddos drew images as part of a “We Have Dreams” project – each one meant to breathe life into the dynamic words of Dr. King’s famous speech, delivered on August 28, 1963.

No stranger to violence

The children who drew these images of peace and hope are no strangers to violence. They are among the 10 million children who are exposed to domestic violence each year.

And many of these children have carried the burden of historic oppression toward our most vulnerable populations. The very oppression Dr. King began fighting more than half a century ago.

Yet,  domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death for black women ages 15 to 35.1 For black men ages 20 to 24, the number one cause of death is gun violence; young black men are four times more likely to be shot and killed than they are to die in a car accident.2

These statistics are not an accident. In our work at LifeWire, we know that violence – in all its forms – is used as a tool to oppress the lives and livelihoods of the most marginalized among us.

Moving towards racial equity

We see the effects of violence and oppression in the faces and the fear of survivors every day. We know that advocating for survivors of violence is so much more than offering shelter and providing legal resources. It’s about restoring the inherent dignity and personal autonomy that every human being deserves. That’s why at the core of our work we have a deeply committed focus on racial equity.

When the playing field is leveled for the most vulnerable in our society, everyone benefits.

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we’re reminded of how much work there is to be done. And while we don’t claim to have all the answers, here’s what we do know.

When we give space for children like Brian – children who have overcome the worst our society has to offer – to draw and enact their dreams, they draw us pictures of hope, love, and empathy.

When we embolden the most vulnerable among us and work to dismantle centuries of oppression and institutional racism and sexism, we enrich entire communities.

And so we move ahead, holding Dr. King’s words as our guiding mission. We rise up to live out the true meaning of our nation’s creed – “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” – in order to build the communities that Dr. King envisioned for all children.

And we do so together. Because none of us can walk alone and we cannot turn back. Not now. Not ever.