The Crowd

The crowd at the National Mall during the 1963 March on Washington.
Public domain image.

I had the occasion to attend a virtual talk last evening by Dr. Gwen Etter-Lewis, entitled, “Living the Dream.” She talked about the vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and discussed the spiritual roots and anti-racist actions of her Baha’i ancestors. It was challenging, powerful, and life-giving.

Growing up, my anti-racism education was exclusively about Martin Luther King Jr. If I’m being honest, it was also the docile version of him that white educators tend to present. We talked about the “I Have a Dream” speech many times in my growing-up years, but my education on racism largely moved along these lines: “Racism is really bad, but it’s also really over.” The pictures were all in black and white, giving everything an aura of over and done. Dr. King helped us accomplish this, and we really did it!

But here we are in 2021 America.

Last night, when I saw Dr. Etter-Lewis’ slides and revisited those familiar, but hardly tired photos from the 1963 March on Washington, I teared up a little. They stood in such sharp contrast to the images of last week’s violent siege on the U.S. Capitol.

In my own Christian tradition, I remember that many of my ancestors’ scriptures were written in ancient Greek. Sometimes, when speaking about the past, those Greek verbs are in the perfect tense, meaning that an action happened in the past and has continual relevance for the present.

I saw that crowd in Dr. Etter-Lewis’ slides like a perfect tense community — a moment of dreaming, spoken in the past with continual relevance for the present.

What does this mean?

We’re still invited into the dream. We’re still invited to make it real.

Renee Roederer

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