August 2023 is the 60th anniversary of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. UMI (Urban Ministries Inc.) has partnered with Harper Christian Resources, and the K.I.N.G. Movement to honor, celebrate, and share the lessons of MLK through the Share the Dream Project and curriculum. UrbanFaith sat down with the award winning journalist and Fox Sports commentator, K.I.N.G. Movement President, and co-host of Share The DreamChris Broussard to talk about the project and MLK’s legacy 60 years after the “I Have A Dream” speech. The full interview is above, excerpts are below edited for length and clarity.
Chris Broussard co-host of Share the Dream
We are talking about something so special, which is the 60th anniversary of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It has inspired us and inspire others to honor and celebrate the legacy through a project called “Shared the Dream.” And so today I am here with the commentator, the journalist, the host, the co-host for this project, Mr. Chris Broussard, who has just been someone who’s been at the forefront of helping push the dream forward.
It’s great to join you, Allen. And wow, thank you for that introduction. I’ll try to live up to it in this interview, but it’s great to be with you guys at UrbanFaith. And this Share the Dream project is something that’s special, something that’s anointed, and something that we do hope and believe can have a great impact in our country.
In a lot of ways it feels like we see Dr. King as a meme, right? Like it’s just a picture on social media with a quote taken out of context. People don’t even know for the I have a dream speech, that he starts with laying out the problems before he gets to a vision for what we could do together. Can you talk a little bit about what it looks like to have a vision going forward and why it’s so important to learn from our history and address those realities before we rush to the vision that God might have for us being united and being one?
No, that’s a great question. Because a lot of times you hear talk about racial reconciliation. And to some people, like I said, does that mean a hug? Does that mean, you know, just some superficial gatherings, but not addressing the issues that left us unreconciled and leave us unreconciled? As you said, most people don’t even know that Dr. King addressed those issues before he said, “I have a dream” and all that stuff. And of course, later in his life, he really to some degree was distraught and disheartened when he really looked at the economic differences. And obviously he knew that [before]. But, in the South the racism was so overt that they were addressing those situations. Blacks couldn’t go here; blacks couldn’t go there. You just address those issues. And then we went up to the North and you saw the economic conditions that many Africans Americans were living in. In the North there [wasn’t persistent] legal segregation, but blacks were clearly getting the short end of the stick. It really disheartened him, and he had to rethink and was in the process of even thinking like, “Okay, how are we going to address this?” And he did have ideas and he talked about redistribution of wealth and all that stuff.
I think the key is that, our white brothers and sisters, particularly in the church, have been miseducated on the history of America. All the talk about a great Christian nation, and manifest destiny and the city on the hill. What about the way African-Americans and Native Americans were treated? And so that miseducation informs the way a lot of whites view the racial situation today. And by using a lot of Dr. King’s principles and teaching, like we want to hopefully shed light on how the true racial history of America, as bad as it was, in the past, but also how it impacts us today. How it impacts the disparities you see today and the tension and the distrust that you see today and all the events that we’ve seen in the past few years. All of that is a remnant to some degree of much of the past. The wealth gap. That’s not just because whites have worked hard, and blacks haven’t. It’s not because of that at all. It is because of things like the federal housing administration loans that were given out to mainly overwhelmingly white Americans in the from the 1930s on into the 1960s that built these beautiful white suburbs. The red lining of the African-American neighborhoods that have cost African-American families on average hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are the things [that must be addressed]. It’s not just let’s go have dinner together and be friends. It is let’s address these economic issues that really were created by the racism of the past and address the those. And then [there can] be some real racial unity and we can have some real robust discussions about how we can solve these problems that we have today. So yeah, I think that’s, you know, part of what we’re trying to do with Share the Dream.
[In this curriculum] you outline the six principles of Dr. King’s legacy beautifully: Conscience, justice, perseverance, hope, freedom, and love.] What principles have you seen stand out in your own life or be most influential to you or what were your favorite ones to share in the series?
Yeah man, there’s so many. I think to some degree I’ve addressed a little bit of the conscience of really making America in particular, many of our white Christian brothers and sisters aware of the true history of this country. I’ve talked to whites who have talked about city on the hill and the great Christian heritage of America, who have talked about slavery as if it was just a little blind spot. It was just a little mistake. I’m like “No, you understand that the reason America was able to become the greatest superpower we’ve ever seen was on the backs of slavery.” So that is a part of it trying to just awaken that consciousness within white Americans to understand. So, I think that’s the conscience. I could focus more on justice as well. Yes, we see overt acts [of racism] here and there. But a lot of it is subtle. If you if you don’t have a deeper understanding of it and really dig beneath the surface, you can get the wrong idea of the racial situation in America today. [Racist policies] created the wealth gap and all of that, that’s a part of the justice we need to look at. I’ll quickly just throw out one more, the perseverance. Like a lot of time, I think a lot of people have been beaten down, particularly African Americans by the situation in America today, by the persistence of the oppression. Where they have given up, where they just decided, nothing can improve for us overall or for me individually. It can affect your decision making and things like that. Whereas you look back in the day when Dr. King was marching and even before that, in the face of even worse oppression, you did have, I would say, you probably had more perseverance and hope within the Black community than you do today. And I believe a lot of that was because Dr. King and many of the people that were working with him were rooted in Jesus Christ. And when you’re rooted in Christ, no matter how bad things look on the outside, you will have hope. As bad as things look in this country, I do have hope because of the gospel and the transformative power of the gospel and how it can change a person and a people’s outlook on life, worldview, and decision-making behavior, all of that. And I think that’s what our ancestors had. And that’s what gave them the perseverance and the hope through slavery, through Jim Crow. We have more opportunities and freedom today, but many of us lack the same perseverance and hope that our ancestors had. So that’s something I would wanna highlight as well. Why did they have that hope? Let me tap into that reason behind their perseverance.
Yeah, I mean, they were so rooted in their faith. And I really appreciate this series pointing that out, highlighting that, bringing that to the forefront, because a lot of times people forget that Dr. King was a minister, right? Like he wasn’t just some great speaker and marcher, he was a minister. You got to work with his friend Andrew Young who was there. What are some of the lessons that you feel like people take away from being able to hear from some elders and from some other folks who are part of the project in the video series in the curriculum?
Well, I think that’s a great question. I think Ambassador Young, he obviously gets accolades and people understand and talk about what he did in the past and his involvement in the movement and all of that. But I don’t think people understand and fully give him the credit for just being how great of a man he is. And to your point, a man of faith. People want to divorce the faith of Dr. King from what he did. They want to divorce [him from his faith]. I could go on and on Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, even Marcus Garvey who [was] a Christian. People want to divorce or [history from faith]. They want to look at these great actions of our ancestors and yet and not look at the sources of their power and the source of their wisdom and the things that they fought for and fought against and stated and so on and so forth. And Ambassador Young is also like that. Ambassador Young is a great man of faith. And I get that we should focus on the other things he talks about and the things he fights for. And everything’s not a religious conversation. But I think it is important that people understand, especially in this day and age, where faith is being marginalized. Christian faith has sustained us as a community and as a people and is now being marginalized, tossed aside, watered down and things like that. It’s important to see in a great man like Ambassador Young that his faith has always been vibrant and to this day is vibrant. And that that’s what motivated him and led him to be able to do and have the strength to do what he did.
The name Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic in the United States. President Barack Obama mentioned King in both his Democratic National Convention nomination acceptance and victory speeches in 2008, when he said,
“[King] brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial…to speak of his dream.”
Indeed, much of King’s legacy lives on in such arresting oral performances. They made him a global figure.
King’s preaching used the power of language to interpret the gospel in the context of black misery and Christian hope. He directed people to life-giving resources and spoke provocatively of a present and active divine interventionist who summons preachers to name reality in places where pain, oppression and neglect abound.
In other words, King used a prophetic voice in his preaching – the hopeful voice that begins in prayer and attends to human tragedy.
So what led to the rise of the black preacher and shaped King’s prophetic voice?
First, let’s look at some of the social, cultural and political challenges that gave birth to the black religious leader, specifically those who assumed political roles with the community’s blessing and beyond the church proper.
In slave society, black preachers played an important role in the community: they acted as seers interpreting the significance of events; as pastors calling for unity and solidarity; and as messianic figures provoking the first stirrings of resentment against oppressors.
The religious revivalism or the Great Awakening of the 18th century brought to America a Bible-centered brand of Christianity – evangelicalism – that dominated the religious landscape by the early 19th century. Evangelicals emphasized a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus Christ.
This new movement made Christianity more accessible, livelier, without overtaxing educational demands. Africans converted to Christianity in large numbers during the revivals and most became Baptists and Methodists. With fewer educational restrictions placed on them, black preachers emerged in the period as preachers and teachers, despite their slave status.
Africans viewed the revivals as a way to reclaim some of the remnants of African culture in a strange new world. They incorporated and adopted religious symbols into a new cultural system with relative ease.
Rise of the black cleric-politician
Despite the development of black preachers and the significant social and religious advancements of blacks during this period of revival, Reconstruction – the process of rebuilding the South soon after the Civil War – posed numerous challenges for white slaveholders who resented the political advancement of newly freed Africans.
As independent black churches proliferated in Reconstruction America, black ministers preached to their own. Some became bivocational. It was not out of the norm to find pastors who led congregations on Sunday and held jobs as schoolteachers and administrators during the work week.
Others held important political positions. Altogether, 16 African Americans served in the U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. For example, South Carolina’s House of Representatives’ Richard Harvey Cain, who attended Wilberforce University, the first private black American university, served in the 43rd and 45th Congresses and as pastor of a series of African Methodist churches.
Others, such as former slave and Methodist minister and educator Hiram Rhoades Revels and Henry McNeal Turner, shared similar profiles. Revels was a preacher who became America’s first African American senator. Turner was appointed chaplain in the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.
To address the myriad problems and concerns of blacks in this era, black preachers discovered that congregations expected them not only to guide worship but also to be the community’s lead informant in the public square.
Such tide-swelling events, in multiplier effect, ushered in the largest internal movement of people on American soil, the Great “Black” Migration. Between 1916 and 1918, an average of 500 Southern migrants a day departed the South. More than 1.5 million relocated to Northern communities between 1916 and 1940.
A watershed, the Great Migration brought about contrasting expectations concerning the mission and identity of the African American church. The infrastructure of Northern black churches were unprepared to deal with the migration’s distressing effects. Its suddenness and size overwhelmed preexisting operations.
The immense suffering brought on by the Great Migration and the racial hatred they had escaped drove many clergy to reflect more deeply on the meaning of freedom and oppression. Black preachers refused to believe that the Christian gospel and discrimination were compatible.
However, black preachers seldom modified their preaching strategies. Rather than establishing centers for black self-improvement focused on job training, home economics classes and libraries, nearly all Southern preachers who came North continued to offer priestly sermons. These sermons exalted the virtues of humility, good will and patience, as they had in the South.
Setting the prophetic tradition
Three clergy outliers – one a woman – initiated change. These three pastors were particularly inventive in the way they approached their preaching task.
Bishop Ransom’s discontentment arose while preaching to Chicago’s “silk-stocking church” Bethel A.M.E. – the elite church – which had no desire to welcome the poor and jobless masses that came to the North. He left and began the Institutional Church and Social Settlement, which combined worship and social services.
Randolph and Powell synthesized their roles as preachers and social reformers. Randolph brought into her prophetic vision her tasks as preacher, missionary, organizer, suffragist and pastor. Powell became pastor at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In that role, he led the congregation to establish a community house and nursing home to meet the political, religious and social needs of blacks.
Shaping of King’s vision
The preaching tradition that these early clergy fashioned would have profound impact on King’s moral and ethical vision. They linked the vision of Jesus Christ as stated in the Bible of bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and proclaiming liberty to the captives, with the Hebrew prophet’s mandate of speaking truth to power.
Similar to how they responded to the complex challenges brought on by the Great Migration of the early 20th century, King brought prophetic interpretation to brutal racism, Jim Crow segregation and poverty in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Indeed, King’s prophetic vision ultimately invited his martyrdom. But through the prophetic preaching tradition already well established by his time, King brought people of every tribe, class and creed closer toward forming “God’s beloved community” – an anchor of love and hope for humankind.
The alarm goes off. Your eyelids crack open as your brain starts to register the piercing foreign and unwelcome sound chosen out of a list of stock options that came with the device. In that moment, you choose. You can attempt to acknowledge that another day has indeed started or you can prolong this inevitability with one of modern history’s greatest inventions: the snooze button.
Just like all other inevitabilities, it is time to face the fact that another day has come, and with it, your routine. A lot of times, you can pretty much predict or foresee what the day is going to look like. If you have a 9-to-5, you know that you need to get up to make sure you’re out the door in enough time to beat traffic and make it to work on time.
Then you work all day, unwind at home, eat something, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’re caught in this cycle and your life has become the one word childhood dreams and imaginations dread: mundane.
The Drum Major Instinct
As Christians, we believe fundamentally that we are all created for a God-given purpose. We believe that there is a reason we are on this earth, that our lives mean something. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10 reinforce this belief. We serve a great (i.e. massive, full of grandeur) God and He made us so surely we are meant to be great, right?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to this feeling of being meant for something greater in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” He states, “We will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first… It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”
It is a natural inclination to want to be significant.
When we consider purpose, we must consider that which we were commanded. We’ve all heard them before: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Then, Jesus’ last instructions before He ascended to Heaven were, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
This is our purpose.
Love God, love people, make disciples. In everything we do, we can point back to these three things. It’s vague and specific at the same time. How can we do these things when we are just normal people?
A word on Purpose from the late Dr. Myles Monroe
Most people will never know Lyle Gash. He was a boy with Downs Syndrome in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina.
When he was born, his mother and father were told he would not make it through the night. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the week. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t see a year. And so on, and so forth for his 24 years of life.
Lyle survived multiple open heart surgeries, kidney failure, and various other health complications. He finally went home to heaven at 24.
One might ask, “What was the point of his life? He struggled for 24 years then died. Where’s the purpose?”
Well, one year, Lyle’s mother had an idea. Watching her baby boy suffer in pain, she wanted to do something to make him feel at least a little better.
She noticed whenever he received “get well soon” cards his mood was significantly better. She wrote a simple Facebook appeal to all who would read it: “Let’s collect 10,000 cards for Lyle.”
It seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, once word got out, cards came zooming in from all over the world. Lyle even got a special card from President Barak Obama and his family. All of a sudden, the story of a boy with Downs Syndrome in small-town North Carolina was impacting the lives of thousands of people that he never would’ve dreamed of meeting.
Lyle’s story serves as a very important lesson: as long as there is breath in your body, you have purpose. It’s up to us to seek out that purpose in our everyday lives.
It’s up to us to never lose our wonder. Whether we realize it or not, in our seemingly mundane lives, we have the opportunity to dream, to encourage others, to delight in creation, and to take advantage of every second of every day.
We can search out beauty and joy. We can take pause and acknowledge the miracle of every breath we take in. We can help others. Life becomes so much more meaningful when it becomes about more than just you. Don’t let the mundane steal your purpose.
As a result King’s words and work are still relevant. I study the civil rights movement and the field of peace geographies. Peace geographies thinks about how different groups of people approach and work toward building the kind of peaceful society King worked to create. Americans faced similar crises related to the broader civil rights struggles in the 1960s.
So, what can the past tell us about healing the nation? Specifically, how can we address divisions along race, class and political lines?
Martin Luther King Jr.‘s understanding of the role of love in engaging individuals and communities in conflict is crucial today. For King, love was not sentimental. It demanded that individuals tell their oppressors what they were doing was wrong.
King spent his public career working toward ending segregation and fighting racial discrimination. For many people the pinnacle of this work occurred in Washington, D.C., when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Less well-known and often ignored is his later work on behalf of poor people. In fact, when King was assassinated in Memphis he was in the midst of building toward a national march on Washington, D.C., that would have brought together tens of thousands of economically disenfranchised people to advocate for policies that would reduce poverty. This effort – known as the “Poor People’s Campaign” – aimed to dramatically shift national priorities to address the health and welfare of working people.
Scholars such as Derek Alderman, Paul Kingsbury and Owen Dwyer how King’s work can be applied in today’s context. They argue that calling attention to the civil rights movement, can “change the way students understand themselves in relation to the larger project of civil rights.” And in understanding the civil rights movement, students and the broader public can see its contemporary significance.
Idea of love
King focused on the role of love as key to building healthy communities and the ways in which love can and should be at the center of our social interactions.
King’s final book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” published in the year before his assassination, provides his most expansive vision of an inclusive, diverse and economically equitable U.S. nation. For King, love is a key part of creating communities that work for everyone and not just the few at the expense of the many.
Love was not a mushy or easily dismissed emotion, but was central to the kind of community he envisioned. King made distinctions between three forms of love which are key to the human experience: “eros,” “philia” and most importantly “agape.”
For King, eros is a form of love that is most closely associated with desire, while philia is often the love that is experienced between very good friends or family. These visions are different from agape.
Agape, which was at the center of the movement he was building, was the moral imperative to engage with one’s oppressor in a way that showed the oppressor the ways their actions dehumanize and detract from society. He said,
“In speaking of love we are not referring to some sentimental emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense[…] When we speak of loving those who oppose us […] we speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word Agape. Agape means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate; it means understanding, redeeming goodwill for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”
King further defined agape when he argued at the University of California at Berkeley that the concept of agape “stands at the center of the movement we are to carry on in the Southland.” It was a love that demanded that one stand up for oneself and tells those who oppress that what they were doing was wrong.
Why this matters now
In the face of violence directed at minority communities and of deepening political divisions in the country, King’s words and philosophy are perhaps more critical for us today than at any point in the recent past.
As King noted, all persons exist in an interrelated community and all are dependent on each other. By connecting love to community, King argued there were opportunities to build a more just and economically sustainable society which respected difference. As he said,
“Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community… Therefore if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavages of a broken community.”
King outlined a vision in which we are compelled to work toward making our communities inclusive. They reflect the broad values of equality and democracy. Through an engagement with one another as its foundation, agape provides opportunities to work toward common goals.
Building a community today
At a time when the nation feels so divided, there is a need to bring back King’s vision of agape-fueled community building and begin a difficult conversation about where we are as a nation and where we want to go. It would move us past simply seeing the other side as being wholly motivated by hate.
Engaging in a conversation through agape signals a willingness to restore broken communities and to approach differences with an open mind.
I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.”
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six decades after the time of enslavement. To me, this comment underscored how closely Americans associate black history with slavery.
While shocked, I knew this mistaken belief reflected the lack of time, depth and breadth schools devote to black history. Most students get limited information and context about what African Americans have experienced since our ancestors arrived here four centuries ago. Without independent study, most adults aren’t up to speed either.
I’m excited about new resources for teaching children, and everyone else, more about the history of slavery through The New York Times’ “1619 Project.” But based on my experience teaching social studies and my current work preparing social studies educators, I also consider understanding what happened during the Reconstruction essential for exploring black power, resilience and excellence.
As most students do learn, the U.S. gained three constitutional amendments that extended civil and political rights to newly freed African Americans following the Civil War.
The 13th, ratified in 1865, banned slavery and involuntary servitude except for the punishment of a crime.
The 14th, ratified three years later, granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to all people born in the United States, as well as naturalized citizens – including all previously enslaved individuals.
Then, the 15th Amendment asserted that neither the federal government nor state governments could deny voting rights to any male citizen.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1870. The anniversary is a good opportunity to learn about how the amendment was supposed to guarantee that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
African American politicians
What few history and social studies classes explore is how these changes to the Constitution made it possible for African American men to use their newfound political power to gain representation.
White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan also formed following the Civil War. These terrorist groups engaged in violence and other racist tactics to intimidate African Americans, people of color, black voters and legislators. They thus made the accomplishments of African American politicians even more impressive as they served as public officials under the constant threat of racial violence.
Black activist women
African American women technically gained the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed. However, their constitutional right was limited in many states due to discriminatory laws.
Many black women were activists and women’s suffrage movement leaders. Through public speaking, prolific writing and developing organizations dedicated to racial and and gender equality, they fought for equal rights and dignity for all.
Among the black women who were activists during Reconstruction were the five Rollins sisters of South Carolina, who fought for female voting rights; Maria Stewart, an outspoken abolitionist before the Civil War and suffragist once it ended; and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper, one of the first black female lawyers in the country and an advocate for granting women the right to vote.
Other women of color who played key roles in the suffrage movement included Ida B. Wells, the journalist and civil rights advocate who raised awareness of lynching, and Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017, contains artifacts from the Reconstruction era. It’s also making the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, including the names of formerly enslaved individuals following the Civil War, available online.
“The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery,” he explained.
This was by no means voluntary. Intimidated and threatened by black enfranchisement and excellence in the era of Reconstruction, white supremacists attempted to enforce subordination through violence, such as lynching; and in systemic ways through Jim Crow laws. African Americans continued to assert their civil and constitutional rights as activists, politicians, business owners, teachers and farmers in the midst of white supremacist backlash.
With the latest voter suppression efforts restricting access to the ballot box for voters of color and the resurgence of racist violence and vitriol today, DuBois’ words sound eerily familiar. At the same time it’s reassuring to recall how quickly formerly enslaved African Americans made their way to schoolhouses and public offices.