On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's powerful message of equality roused the nation to action. Speaking simply of a dream, King's words have echoed through history and stirred multiple generations.
Since that historic event, unimaginable strides have been made in race relations, including the election of a black president. Throughout the successes of the past five decades, we are reminded daily that King's famous dream remains a work in progress, requiring active consideration. What can each of us do to further King's historic dream? To commemorate the birthday of this great American leader, we asked the Life in Perspective teen board for thoughts on making King's dream a reality.
Though Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is well on its way to becoming a reality, there is still a ways to go. It's been less than a year since the Trayvon Martin incident, and President Barack Obama's recent re-election stirred up tensions around the country. As a nation, we still struggle to look past the hue of someone's skin. King realized that movements start with individuals, not countries, and individually, we must commit to fulfilling his vision.
I live in Los Gatos, where nearly 87 percent of the residents are Caucasian. I'll be the first to admit that fulfilling King's vision is difficult when your vision is full of white kids. Still, my parents taught
King's dream is a message of hope, and that's exactly what I have. I hope that freedom continues to ring throughout our nation, and I hope that in another 50 years, his dream will be fully actualized.
-- Maya Sweedler, Los Gatos High School, Los Gatos
In order to uphold King's dream, the first step is an open mind. We have to pull back the curtain of preconceived notions and see who people truly are. Racism only exists if you believe in it, and discrimination doesn't happen of its own accord.
That's not to say it's easy to tolerate, especially in the complex social web of adolescence, where scrutinizers are prevalent and "different" can morph into "outcast." I make condemning judgments on everything from clothing to language to test scores. So when I find myself becoming overcritical of my peers, I remind myself that I don't have to like someone; I just can't be hateful. And if I let them, people might surprise me -- in the best way. I try to remember that everyone is different, that people are supposed to be different. If we all endeavor to keep our mind wide open, ready to read not just the cover but also the pages inside the book, we just might be on our way to making King's dream come true.
-- Kelsey Ichikawa, Irvington High School (Fremont)
I've always been taught not to judge people based on their visage; that much has been burned into my psyche already. But I think King's vision goes a bit further than that. To help his dream come closer to reality, I would refrain from judging people not only based on their appearance, but also on distasteful things they've done in the past. Whether it be telling lies, calling names, getting drunk or betraying the trust of someone else, all of us partake in actions that we regret later. It's human nature to do wrong, and that fact has to be considered when we form our opinions of others. One who does something society deems to be "bad" is not necessarily a "bad person"; they shouldn't be judged or stereotyped solely according to their questionable decisions. When I see people, I won't speculate about what they've done or what their personality might be like based on their looks or my previous interactions with them. To honor King, I'll simply view them as what I know they truly are at heart: human beings.
-- Blake Garnsey, San Ramon Valley High School (Danville)
Racial stereotypes and discrimination still occur today, and even if it might not be as direct, I still want to do everything in my power to stop it. You might think the actions of one student are not going to make much of a difference, but I believe they can -- especially if others join in. I always stand up for someone who is being judged or treated unfairly. While some people may think that's strange, I try not to care what they think and instead do what I know is right. I don't believe in the common stereotypes that some people do, and I encourage my friends to do the same. I hope that with these small acts of kindness and this sharing of beliefs that I will be able to change how others act and help improve the world we live in and let King's dream live on.
-- Shannon Donley, Clayton Valley Charter High School (Concord)
Our society continues to disparage those with different sexual orientations, strange physical characteristics or foreign mannerisms. It is hard to be accepted if you're not sufficiently "normal" in every way imaginable. I'm pretty sure that if King walked into a modern high school, he would be stunned at the rampant cliques and "social classes" that plague hallways.
But if King stepped into my Principles of Engineering classroom, I think he would be immensely proud. In our class, we have people from Indian, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Jewish, Muslim and Christian backgrounds learning together and working toward a common goal: creating a smarter, better and more efficient world. We bring King's dream to life every day. Everyone in the class is accepted and treated with respect because we are all people, and we all have equal potential to revolutionize the world. By nourishing and encouraging each other, we will someday improve a world we all share.
-- Garima Raheja, American High School (Fremont)
In order to achieve King's dream, we all are obligated to reach out to our neighbors without judging them based on assumptions. I work with autistic children, spending weekday afternoons at a special education classroom where I sing, read and play with the students. Despite their disabilities, these kids like to do the same things that any "normal" first or second grader would. They play on slides during recess and high-five me before they go home. It's extremely gratifying to know that I have a positive impact on their lives.
In order to completely realize King's dream of brotherhood, it is vital that we extend tolerance and offer friendship to everyone around us. All people -- whether they are black, white or autistic -- deserve to be judged not "by the color of their skin" (or their clothes, or their health) "but by the content of their character."
-- Tara Iyer, Evergreen Valley High School (San Jose)
It's easy to jump to conclusions about people, especially in high school. Why did this person do this? Oh, probably because he is African-American, or Asian or Mexican. People relate an action to a race; it's easier to make assumptions than to actually get to know the person.
As teenagers, we are scared of difference -- of being different ourselves, and others who are different. We judge what we don't know and apply stereotypes to matters we don't understand.
It's easy to get caught up in the stereotypes, but I try to remember the times that my friends or I have fallen victim to them. Why would I ever want to subject anyone to that? I make an effort to get to know someone before I make my opinion, despite any preconceived judgments. It's about having an open and accepting mind, bringing us one step closer to making King's dream a reality.
-- Jamie Altman, Amador Valley High School (Pleasanton)
I was asked to write about some ways to make King's dream a reality. And I wasn't able to. I thought of all the different angles that I could take on the prompt: We have a black president; I go to school with kids of all different races, etc. But everything I wrote either sounded cheesy or made me sound racist, which is not at all how I wanted to come off. After starting and stopping about 20 times, I just couldn't write anymore. I had a classic case of writer's block. Then I realized that maybe I couldn't write about making King's dream a reality: In my life, it already is reality. The reason it sounded so cheesy when I wrote about going to school with people of every possible race is because to me that's not a big deal; it's just how it's always been. I've been raised in a community where a person isn't judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. And isn't that what King wanted? I obviously was not alive to see the civil rights movement and to see people fight for race equality, but I am alive to see their dreams as reality.
-- Sara Zollner, Castro Valley High School
It is so easy to walk down a hallway, see someone and judge them based on how they look. It is so easy to let that judgment alter your thoughts and treatment toward them. It is so easy to get caught up in appearances. I know I do, more than I often care to admit. Yet every person deserves an equal benefit of the doubt, whether or not they dress and do their hair in a way of which I approve. When I think of a truly equal world like that of King's dreams, I imagine a place free of judgment, racial and otherwise. Racial tension has always been about preconceived notions, and I will work to eliminate mine and others' prejudices based solely on ignorance. I will try to reinterpret King's famous message of equality to apply not just to skin color but all differences in appearance, ignoring snap judgments based solely on stereotype.
-- Shalaka Gole, California High School (San Ramon)
Here we are in 2013, in a time of technological and scientific advancement, creating new gadgets and breaking through past technological boundaries. Smartphones allow us to access information right away, and new inventions allow us to live more comfortably. The human race has never had as much knowledge as it does right now.
And yet, through all this advancement, we have failed. We have failed to fully come face-to-face with the issue of inequality.
If we truly want to see King's dream become a reality, we must first start somewhere -- even from the small things, because change starts from the small. Stop stereotyping. Don't judge a man by his color. Love everyone. Tell others that cracking racist jokes is not funny -- and it never was. Be proud of your ethnicity, and embrace the ethnicity of others. King fought the fight, and now it is our turn to do so.
-- Kelsey Wong, Irvington High School (Fremont)
King was a top-notch dreamer, one of the most ambitious that the world has seen. He did not dream of traveling to distant galaxies or of hidden worlds, but of the end of racism. It's been nearly 50 years since King's famous speech, and although racism has not been eliminated, the modern world is primed to take great steps in the right direction. In the past, the likes of Voltaire and Swift hid their big ideas behind stories and humor to great success. Likewise, controversial topics such as racism are made approachable, partially thanks to modern day "satirists" such as David Sedaris and Key and Peele, who present serious subjects such as religion, sexuality or racism in humorous ways; they put an amusing facade on a serious issue and, in doing so, raise awareness of the problem and make it an open platform for discussion.
Ultimately, broader changes such as learning to respect others and having an open mind are needed to make King's dream a reality. I would like to speak to others and really listen to their opinions. Doing so cultivates respect and open mindedness. It's a good start. The stepping stones have been set and are ready for the world. Although there are many who have yet to take their first steps, in an age where people are becoming more and more open about things, I believe King's dream will persist until it has been fulfilled.
-- Emily Tran, Irvington High School (Fremont)
While I cannot make King's dream a universal reality, I believe I can take steps to follow his word and make it a personal one. He wanted a world where all people -- no matter their race or background -- treated each another fairly and equally. He wanted actions, rather than skin color, to speak about every individual.
To make his dreams a reality, I believe I should do just that: avoid making judgments and instead embrace uniqueness, including my own. Once I become comfortable with myself and my prejudices, I can begin to break down the barriers I sometimes build. In my own efforts to make King's dream come true, I have found that getting involved in volunteer work -- especially in these difficult times -- can help bring people of all races, ages and economic situations together. At school and in my community, I have worked on food, book, clothing and toy drives. I also volunteer at the Animal Rescue Foundation, which has given me the opportunity to interact with animals and people alike. No matter what I am doing, I am showing kindness to all kinds of people. Any effort, whether big or small, can make the world a better place.
-- Alexa Barger, Orinda Academy
There's something about Martin Luther King Day that always evokes a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, it feels amazing to be honoring the man that did so much to change our country and give it a dream to pursue. On the other hand, it makes me feel wistful, because I don't think his dream has quite been achieved yet. When I look at society, I still see signs of inequality. I still catch glimpses of people not being treated correctly. And the strangest thing of all is that sometimes people believe in their own racial stereotypes. But this does not have to be the case. If we simply take a moment to believe in ourselves, without the baggage of race and culture and stereotypes, but merely view ourselves as equal human beings, perhaps then we can truly celebrate Martin Luther King Day. I want us all to truly, simply value ourselves. The way we view ourselves often determines how we are viewed by others. Equality will come when we see ourselves equally.
-- Emily Hoeven, Washington High School (Fremont)
I believe that educating our generation is the most effective way to make any dream a reality. We are a generation of believers and innovators -- the young minds with young hearts and matured willpower can do whatever we set our minds to. Change and diversity are two things that have been prominent in our short lifetimes, and I believe that will go on until we are adults. Growing to accept anyone -- of any race, ethnic group or sexuality -- is becoming ingrained in our everyday lives, as it should be. Sowing the seeds of acceptance we now have is how we can make King's dream a reality.
-- Rosemarie Alejandrino, St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School (Vallejo)
I strive to not judge people just based on their appearances. To me, King represents the fight for equality, and acceptance of others is a very important aspect of that. To make King's dream a reality as a whole, everyone can stand up for each other in situations where somebody is displaying ignorance/discrimination regarding a certain race, religion, etc.
-- Laila Kazmi, Salesian High Schood (Richmond)
Regardless of what I have heard about others and their cultures, I strive to learn as much as I can about other cultures. I am a firm believer in the idea that not accepting someone's culture is a matter of one's own ignorance and lack of knowledge. If we knew more about other cultures, we wouldn't think of them as strange, different, or perhaps inferior. Instead, greater knowledge and understanding about others will lead to a change in our rigid mindset. In retrospect, what started out as King's dream of equality regardless of race has evolved into the next step: acceptance of diversity. The ultimate question remains: Will we be able to continue making changes to fulfill his dream? That is truly possible when we treat people of all cultures with equal respect.
-- Sophie Zhang, San Ramon Valley High School (Danville)
It is natural to automatically judge someone for how they look and act; however, stereotyping only perpetuates a separation among peers. It is common for a teenager, like me, to subconsciously judge someone without ever talking to them or making an effort to get to know them. King wanted everyone to be treated equally and for others to look past what is on the outside. What people look like, sound like and enjoy shouldn't create a social barrier. Physical appearance is irrelevant when it comes to who you want to surround yourself with. I have tried to make a conscious effort to get to know someone's opinions and interests, instead of just assuming I know what they are like. While society has made great strides to make King's dream come true, it shouldn't be just on his birthday when we are reminded of his teachings. It should be a part of our daily lives.
-- Alexandra Quilici, Carondelet High School (Concord)
The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Reach the writers at email@example.com.