Have you ever had the feeling that you were standing somewhere significant?
I’ve had the privilege of being a leadership facilitator for National Student Leadership Conference at American University in Washington, DC, this summer. Along with meeting GREAT student leaders from all over North America (and sometimes beyond!), I had a chance to explore some of the sights and monuments in America’s capital.
Most things here are larger than life. Or that’s how it seems to me. The monuments each have their own character. I loved the openness of Thomas Jefferson, and I liked how I could climb onto Einstein’s lap. Lincoln is huge, and I loved his eyes – gazing down the National Mall at Capitol Hill, seeming to keep a watchful eye on what’s happening.
But there was a certain spot on steps of the Lincoln Memorial that had some extra significance. Inscribed in the granite was “I have a dream.” It’s the exact spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic speech on August 28, 1963. If you haven’t seen or heard the speech, I’d recommend watching it. I stood on the spot where he had stood, and I looked out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, down the reflecting pool, and I imagined it packed full of people.
A few weeks before, I had visited the Newseum – a fantastic museum in Washington that dedicated a good deal of space to the civil rights movement. I saw the newspaper announcing the abolition of slavery in 1865. I watched the famous video clips of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators in the 1965 Montgomery marches – 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The footage was shown nation-wide and triggered massive public outrage at the bigotry. I saw the newspaper article from the day after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968. It’s amazing to think that the major civil rights movement happened such a relatively short time ago – we haven’t even hit the 50 year anniversary.
And those images flashed back into my mind as I stood on MLK’s spot. The whole area has become a landmark for civil rights demonstrations and celebrations. Having grown up in Canada, I don’t think we learned as much about that, but events in Washington can rock the world. From the huge (but fictitious) anti-war demonstration in the movie Forrest Gump, to the very real Obama Inauguration concert featuring Bono, Springsteen, and Beyonce – this place was significant. And I was standing there – appreciating it and, in some strange, tiny way, being part of it all.
And it continues all the time, even when the TV cameras aren’t rolling. On that particular day, there was a small demonstration to promote equal rights for women in nations under discriminatory Islamic law. Of course, not every protest or demonstration has seen its cause come to fruition, but I feel like we might do well to take note of these demonstrations – it’s a good way to keep one’s finger on the pulse of the nation, and perhaps the world. The issues presented are usually just beneath the surface of general public consciousness, half waiting, half writhing with impatience – trying to find the opportunity to poke a hole into the status quo and make the world a little bit more just.
Joel stands where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I have a dream" speech. It's humbling to stand in the footprints of giants.
July 29, 2010
“I have a dream that one day my four little children will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.,
American Civil Rights Advocate
Joel Hilchey is the founder of The Beanstalk Project, a youth engagement initiative to develop global leadership and create positive social change. He speaks at schools and events across North America, inspiring character and creativity by juggling, storytelling, and playing with mousetraps.
The Lincoln Memorial is one of the common attractions in DC.
Lincoln's memorial is larger than life. Lincoln overlooks the national mall. Behind the memorial is a bridge over the Potomac River to Virginia, meant to symbolize the connection of the North and South.
RIDDLE: Lincoln can’t quite see me now, though he saw me in his day - although he sits and looks and stares, old Washington’s in the way. If he could just get off his duff and move from side to side, he’d see me clearly, big and round and white on the outside! Who am I?