I HAVE A DREAM
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
When I wrote "I Have A Dream", I asked myself "How am I going to put young readers in the crowd to experience Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech?" It's a daunting problem. The sights, the sounds, the feeling in the air - only MLK knew he would write his own page in American history that day.
And I knew the easy way to write about it: just lean hard on the great man's passages - let his words provoke, inspire, and bring listeners to his dream - any good-hearted soul would be moved. After that, I'd just add a splash of adoring characters and simmer to arrive at the requisite "let's make the world a better place" ending. Et voila - color-by-numbers historical fiction...done and done!
But I had to serve the speech and do better - or fail trying. It seemed to me that the best kind of story would represent the best elements of the speech and to demonstrate the unity MLK hoped to bring about. What if - instead of reading though the entire speech - kids could feel the impact of MLK's words and see the kind of change he envisaged? Hmm.
I studied the photographs: plenty of white, black, brown faces everywhere and a smattering of National Park Service Officers standing by the man himself. So the story came out this way: as MLK delivers his iconic I Have A Dream speech, Officer Bob Flanigan doesn't care and wants to go home. That's when Brenda Johnson, aka "The Polka-Dot Lady", emerges from the crowd to tune him into what's going on (yes, that's a Marvin Gaye reference). The dream elevates them and brings them together in MLK's rapturous finale.
And unlike the divisive (and foolish) identity politics of today, I mindfully brought MLK's vision forward because I, too, had listened; as Americans, we need to embody unity, not division, to see character over color, and to respect our fellow citizens - that is the America our forefathers promised. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded everyone that day, and I hope my young readers took it to heart.