Awake in the Dream
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Awake in the Dream
Hannah M. Vollbrecht
It was the summer of 1997. I had spent eight days in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, at a church camp. Every day we received at least five hours of free time to lounge in the sun and play in the clear waves or on the sparkling white beaches. Every moment one thing was for certain: we were trying to discover who God wanted us to be. We returned home washed by the blood, saved, changed, and filled with the Holy Spirit. The pigment of our skin colors had turned to dark brown, and the smell of sunscreen and tanning oil lingered for days. It was quite refreshing to leave Alabama to have those eight days of freedom from a town that was lined with cotton fields.
It was the first Wednesday night back in our small town of Mt. Hope, Alabama, and we had a gathering at our church for the cleansed children to give their testimony of how they had been wandering lambs and of how the good Lord had rescued them once again. We all sat at the very front of the church crossed legged and crowded together, anticipating the moment the microphone would make its way around to our lips so we could each breathe the words of salvation. It was in one of those many moments my mother saw a woman lean across the church pew, tap another woman on the shoulder, and ask in disgust, "Who is that mixed girl sittin' so close to LeeAnn?" To my mother's surprise, the woman was asking about me. When we got home that night my mother told me the story with hilarity in her voice, "You are never going to believe this! Someone thought you were mixed!"
In our sweet southern town "mixed" was considered to be a normal word people used to describe a person that was "mixed" with white and black. I may be a few different ethnicities and may tan extremely well in the heat of Florida, but I am not mixed and I am not black. I didn't find it amusing at all. But on second thought, why would it have mattered if I were mixed? I had only moved to the South from the beautiful golden state of California a year earlier. I was a California girl living in a racially suppressed state, surrounded by racially suppressed people. Why hadn't they heard the news of the amazing Dr. King? The news that said, "I Have a Dream." It was the news that had changed California for the better, for the greater good of humanity. Why hadn't Dr. King's prayer reached out to the southern states when he said, "One day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."
As a young girl, I can remember getting the chills when I heard Dr. King's voice on the tape recorder in my middle school class. "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" I didn't fully understand what he meant, but the tone of his voice made every single hair stand straight up across my body. Every time he said the words "Dream" and "Rise," the certainty of power that would come of these words became reality. He was giving the words a new meaning. He was using them to provoke change. He was speaking to me with his mighty voice through the speakers. "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; 'and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.'" He was changing me.
"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." I say his name with strength in my voice. I wonder how it could be said otherwise. No person could say it with weakness under their breath to accidentally portray him as a simple man, when he is a great man and far beyond commendable. I think of what Dr. King has done for me and for this nation. Even the ignorant people who covered their ears when he spoke now listen. Undeniable greatness is associated with Dr. King. It's a kind of greatness that comes not just from a man who preached the messages of equality, freedom, and prosperity, but from a mighty man who lived their teachings and loved for their teachings. It was the name that ended with "King" to remind us after we said it how admirable and powerful he was born to be, a person whose very destiny was marked with change.
In college I read something by a psychologist named Peter Loewenberg that stuck with me through time. He stated, "It has become apparent in recent years that centuries of denigration and humiliation have been unsuccessful in keeping the Negro 'in his place'" (72a). I believe that this so called "place" the negro was being unsuccessfully kept was in the place of being kept quiet, the place where freedom was an impossibility and a far off dream. It took a man who wouldn't be kept quiet. It took a man who would dream the impossible and spread the word of equality throughout his country. It was the voice of Dr. King that lit a fire in the souls of many that would heat the endurance of "unsuccessfully keeping the Negro 'in his place.'" It was strength in the words from a man who spoke with boldness saying, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift out nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood." Because of you, Dr. King, I stand firmly on the rock of brotherhood. He says, "I have a dream." And I say, "I will stand on your solid rock with you. I will be an advocate of your beliefs as long as I shall live."
When I was in my twenties, the dream of Dr. King had become more alive in me than ever. I received a job as a nanny for a black family. The idea of a white woman being a nanny to two black children was quite unrealistic in ways to some people. It wasn't that it was shocking but out of the ordinary. It was something that they had rarely encountered throughout the dream that they were taught. But I was taught Dr. King's dream. I had embraced it and cherished it, and that alone had allowed me to fall in love with the children I took care of. If I had not embraced the message Dr. King had lived for, having the children in my life would have been simply an opportunity of unimaginable fulfillment passed by. If I had not embraced Dr. King's message, I would have seen the rare job opportunity in an obscured vision with eyesight that only saw in black and white. In college I read a book by a man named Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. He said, "Time and place are defined by specific circumstances, understandings, beliefs, and customs, all of which limit your experience and influence your thought patterns" (5). I thank God, as Dr. King would have, that I was born in a time and a place as this: where I didn't have to be influenced by a generation eager to "keep the Negro 'in his place.'" When I think of the powerful Dr. King now, I whisper, "Thank you. Thank you for changing the world so my heart could be in love with these babies. Thank you for deciding to not keep quiet, for changing the hearts of this nation, and for making it possible for them to have a life of equality and a chance for prosperity. Thank you that I lived the aftermath of your dream. Thank you that my very soul is color blind. Thank you, Dr. King, thank you."
I often wonder how better the world would be if we still had Dr. King in it. The day he was assassinated the world lost an advocate of peace. I was not alive on the horrific day he was taken from us, but somehow someway, I know I was born with a deep wound from it-a cry that is buried deep and shut up in a box way down where passion resides. But he left me with a dream, a mighty, powerful, solid dream that would forever change my life and shape my heart. He left me with the ability to make more dreams of my own and with the fight to make them succeed. "Thank you, Dr. King. Thank you."
Allport, Gordon W. "Formation of In-Groups." English 1D Handbook. Ed. Anna Villegas. San Joaquin Delta College: 2006. 34-41.
Loewenberg, Peter. "The Psychology of Racism." English 1D Handbook. Ed. Anna Villegas. San Joaquin Delta College: 2006. 72a-73.
"Martin Luther King Speeches." MLK Online. 10 November 2008. < http://www.mlkonline.net/dream.html >.
Ruggiero, Vincent R. Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking. 8th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.