by Jasmine M. Pulido
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Freedom-Dreamer.
His dreams spoke to our hearts and minds. His dreams spoke to our imaginations.
“What we have to do is vision-dream … If we imagine what is possible, that imagining can change the way we exist in the present.” —Eddie Glaude Jr.
In commemoration of Dr. King’s 50th death anniversary, Eddie Glaude Jr, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, discussed Dr. King’s life with actor, comedian, and political commentator, D.L. Hughley on Hughley’s podcast in 2018. As two Black men, they talked not only about what Dr. King accomplished but also about how his ideas were much more radical than what gets taught to us in grade school. At one point, Glaude had the following to say.
“… if you think all we need to sing is, ‘We shall overcome,’ march and beg somebody for something, if you think all we need to do is find ways to get included in the system as it is then you and I become Window Negroes to show people how good it is. [If] we’re not changing the fundamental structures that reproduce a system that is constantly throwing people away then we are turning our back on what King died for.”
When I was in second grade, I recited a section of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at our elementary school assembly. Back then, my teachers emphasized that this speech was a beautifully imagined aspiration, but they neglected to talk in detail about how radical Dr. King’s visions were at the time he said them. His words permeated bleak and violent times with the light needed to get to the other side of legally enforced segregation.
Today, I think we are living through the second coming of the civil rights era, a renewed racial reckoning to finish the radical work that Dr. King and other Black leaders of his time started. This work requires us to completely overhaul our social, economic, and political structures on a fundamental level. It demands that we reassemble these structures so that their whole design recognizes, respects, and dignifies our African American kinfolk in every way imaginable.
In a still-racist society that desires using and abusing the labor of Black and Brown bodies for profit, my BIPOC friends confide in me their nightmares of fear and despair. They share with me the catastrophic imaginings that commit them to dwell in a dreary, depressing reality with no energy left to move up or away. There is a heavy burden on their hearts, minds, and spirits, one where the seemingly easier choice is to succumb to the weight of it all, to give into the inertia of a motionless state.
But when these same people are given the gifts of hope and imagination, these ruinous burdens are eradicated from the inside. This is the gift Dr. King actually gave us. He gave us dreams of freedom and images of hope. He offered ideas and actions so powerful that he was on the FBI watch list. My white elementary teachers didn’t tell me that though. They told me his dreams were lovely and then conveniently muted discussions on his radical nature.
Luckily, we have new Black leaders that continue to offer these same gifts of hope and imagination. They are not muted by the white messengers I grew up with. They acknowledge the trauma of our present reality. They don’t coax us to look away or ignore the damage of our current times. But they also nudge us to see what’s ahead if only we continue to hold fast to hope. To Freedom-Dream.
In 2017, adrienne maree brown wrote in response to the Las Vegas shooting:
“we are living in impossible times. if it were fiction it would be critiqued as hyperbolic. if it were nightmares we would never sleep. we are living in times created by our own species…
“our visions are ropes through the devastation. look further ahead, like our ancestors did, look further. extend, hold on, pull, evolve.”
Our visions are ropes through devastation.
This was written before the dumpster fire that was 2020, Folks.
Now we need this same Freedom-Dream but renewed, a dream where the BIPOC community liberates themselves. One where our white counterparts learn to liberate themselves alongside us without dependence on our labor to get there. By demanding white folks no longer benefit or exploit our labor or our bodies, by demanding they do their own work, we take back our power. Reclamation of our humanity comes from letting go of the labor white people ask from us and setting boundaries around our own right to exist.
In one of my all-time favorite books, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, Reverend angel Kyodo williams talks about how our liberation is bound up in one another. We are not freeing just ourselves. Our oppressors are also imprisoned but they cannot see it. If they are unaware of their story in white supremacy, they do not yet know they too are imprisoned in it.
“love and justice are not two. without inner change, there can be no outer change. without collective change, no change matters.” —Reverend angel Kyodo williams
This is where I arrive at my ultimate question: How can I Freedom-Dream my own existence? Is it possible to erect a Better World from within myself? Could I build a self-contained power that might extend its influence outward? If so, I would have a regenerative source. A microcosmic foundation of strength, hope, and power. One I could consistently draw from having cultivated my surroundings to support existing this way indefinitely.
This month more egregious national events took place. The BIPOC community endured more racial cruelty on a local level. I’m not denying these are happening, the cumulative and compounding effects of this continued stress, or the emotions I must process to survive these times.
But I also dream for what comes after. I carry on Dr. King’s vision by doing so. As Mereba sings in her song “Get Free,” “Not trying to get by / I’m trying to get free.” When I hear the words of wisdom from truth-tellers like Mereba, Dr. King, Eddie Glaude Jr, adrienne maree brown, and Rev. Kyodo williams, I remember my oppressed Filipino ancestors before me who didn’t have the privilege or the public voice I now possess. I think of the leaders who spoke and continue to speak to the racial struggle I am mixed up in, somewhere in the middle. I remember that personal liberation is the first step to getting us free. But I have to start with myself first.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King. Thank you for this revolutionary seed of radical change. It lives on inside of us, despite efforts to domesticate it.
“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” speech, Washington D.C. August 28, 1963
Jasmine M. Pulido (she/her/siya) is a Filipina American writer-activist and small business owner living in Seattle. She’s currently pursuing her Master of Arts degree in Social Change.
Featured image is an illustration by Jiéyì Ludden 杰意.
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