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King's Message: The Power of You

How "I Have a Dream" shapes our lives

Some time ago, I wrote a speech that I have never given and never will. I am often asked to give the MLK Day address at various functions. But I always decline. Every year on Dr. King's birthday, people cite the I Have a Dream speech. They reflect on the content of your character vs. the color of your skin and all the other pearls of wisdom in the speech. But then, when the inspirational and reflective moment passes, they resume doing what they've always done and nothing changes. That's what my speech was about.  

If Dr. King were here today, I suspect he would care less about who was in the White House and more about what's going on in your house. So I'll never give my speech because MLK Day is an occasion for people to rekindle dreams — to serve the community, clean up parks, fix up libraries or work with seniors — not to watch those dreams drift idly by.

Dr. King might say that every day is a day to rekindle dreams because this is us at our best — being people of consequence, people who matter. The question to us is, "Do we still have a dream of being the best we can be, as people, as communities, as a nation?"

In I Have a Dream, Dr. King reminds us of the "fierce urgency of now." He says, "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

This speaks to the need for every citizen to stand up and create the America we dream of. We're not there yet, and it is the striving for perfection that, in many ways, makes us American. We have to get back to that striving. We have to put our houses in order. We have to keep moving. And we have to be our best selves in life — if we are to keep our dreams alive.

Chris Gardner is AARP’s Ambassador of Pursuit and Happyness. He is a best-selling author and the inspiration for the award-winning movie The Pursuit of Happyness.

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