The myth and dream of MLK and the Civil Rights Movement

Hannah McMahan Co-Executive Director

Every year for the past five years, I’ve written a reflection for MLK Day. Each year it is a time not just for reflection on the church and our society but also for my growth. What have I learned? What are the ways I’ve grown? How have I stretched myself to better understand and respond to the injustices of the world? How have I worked to take a dream of peace and equality and make it a reality?

These sorts of questions, along with hearing the stories of the past, are the things that can take our history and make it a mythology.

When I say “myth,” I do not mean a story which isn’t true. What I mean is that these are stories that are so true that their meaning is not limited to their historicity or facts but to their transformative power to help us live our lives differently and make a better future. These are the stories we aren’t just supposed to hear and remember but the ones by which we are to be changed and challenged.

There are the stories of faithful waiting, a long obedience in the same direction and cultivating hope in places and times where hope does not seem to belong.

There are the stories of decisive action, truth to power and an unwillingness to give up or give in.

There are stories of dreams that are not fantasies but compelling visions that transform both the dreamer and the world.

Each one is not just a record of what has happened but a vision for what can happen again.

Myths become dreams when we internalize the hope they carry with them and the transformation they represent. This is how the myths of MLK and the Civil Rights Movement are still inspiring vibrant dreams of the future that give and make meaning. Howard Thurman wrote in Meditations of the Heart, “Keep alive the dream; for as long as a man has a dream in his heart, he cannot lose the significance of living.”

While we celebrated the changing of the calendar year a few weeks ago, it is this day that marks for me a new year in my work for justice. A time to reflect and commit. A time to see what has been done and still left undone. It is a time I mark to let the challenges of our history and the promise of our mythology shape me in the remembrance of another year gone past and another year that lies ahead.

As we think about the year past and the year before us: What are the stories you will live by this year? What is the truth that you are reminded of on this day of celebration and remembrance that will shape your life? Who are the models in the Civil Rights Movement who have been and will be your teacher?

How will you take a history and make it a mythology that changes to a dream and helps change our future?

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