Back in the dark ages of 1977 when I was taking an English class at my local community college (go Citrus Owls!), I read – for the first time – Langston Hughes’ 1959 poem, Harlem (A Dream Deferred):
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
In my textbook, I wrote next to Hughes’ name – no doubt prompted by my professor – “Militant Black American.” Militant? Absurd. In light of this day, 50 years after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “prophetic” is the word that should have been ascribed to Hughes and “A Dream Deferred.”
The two-word term, a “dream deferred” is being used a lot these days. But reading the full poem is a potent reminder that injustice still exists, just as it did in ’59 and just as it did in ’68. Despite the long way we’ve come as a nation, we still have a long way to go. We ignore the injustice at our peril.
Martin Luther King, Jr. also knew a thing or two about dreams deferred. And his vision for a new world ultimately cost him his life. In a recent article, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, one of King’s closest friends and advisors, is quoted as saying soon after MLK’s assassination, “Tighten your belts and dry your tears. If you love Martin Luther King as you say you do, carry on his work.”
The article goes on, “The members of King’s tight circle barely paused to grieve. They plunged into carrying out his unfinished work, and turned it into a lifelong vow.”
Perhaps it’s appropriate that we reflect on King’s work during the same week we rejoice that Jesus is risen (He is risen indeed!). Like King’s inner circle, the disciples were bereft after the crucifixion. But, like King’s followers, they knew the work Jesus started could only be carried out by those he left behind – empowered by resurrection hope.
It was up to them. It is up to us.
2,018 years later we disciples still struggle to make the kindom of God a reality “on earth as it is in heaven.” Because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean we are defeated, right? (I ask this for myself…we are not defeated.) We fight against the “dream deferred” so that Martin Luther King’s other “dream” can become a reality and God’s will can be done right here on earth.
So friends, “tighten your belts and dry your tears.” There’s lots of work to be done. And I, for one, know we are up to the task.