'I Have A Dream' Still Resonates With Today's Teens

Aug 28, 2013
Originally published on August 28, 2013 3:18 pm

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. unleashed a powerful and poetic torrent upon the nation — a passionate plea for racial equality and economic justice for African Americans.

Fifty years later, the “I Have a Dream” speech still resonates with a group of teenagers at William Smith High School in Aurora, a racially and ethnically diverse city east of Denver.

They recently sat down with Colorado Public Radio education reporter Jenny Brundin to watch the speech, talk about it and share their own dreams.

Four teenagers, 14 and 15-year-olds — black, Latino and white — huddle around a lap top watching a grainy black and white video.

Watching them watch the 16-minute “I Have a Dream” speech, they don’t show emotion over King’s soaring rhetoric. But the content yes. Justin Morales recognizes the speech as pivotal.

“I believe that it major point in American history,” Morales says. “It made me think, like, what if the speech never happened? Would we be living in different conditions? Maybe we wouldn’t be at this point where we are right now.”

And where we are right now, these students say, is a much better place. They don’t see institutionalized segregation like there was in 1963.

“I definitely think that African-American, that race in America today, is free but there is discrimination but it’s not as present as it used to be,” says Triston Childs, who is white.

Deja Brown, who is African-American, replies, “Yes, but … everyone’s not really free, ’cause there’s still that stereotype in the back of their, head, like oh they’re black, so they must be like this.”

Justin Morales agrees. He says blacks now aren’t crippled by the “manacles of segregation” as King intoned, but, “There’s still black people in poverty and they don’t have really good jobs or aren’t making a lot of money or aren’t succeeding.”

But it’s not the economic injustice theme in King’s speech that resonates most. It’s the images of racial harmony and King’s dream “that my four little children, will one day live in a nation, where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Brown says, “I do feel like I’m judged by the color of my skin a lot … ’cause, like there’s jokes going around, like oh, she’s black, so she does this and this and this. Or people instantly assume I’m going to do something bad.”

Deja’s friend Rachael Smith, who is white, sees things differently.

“I’m really comfortable at our school,” Smith said. “Like, I never think about race. So this is kind of weird for me because you’re like, ‘oh, how do you feel like black people feel’, I’m like, ‘I never really consider them as like black people,’ I’m like, ‘oh, that’s Deja.’”

Though the kids see more racial harmony today, they see other destructive forces at work. Kids say races stereotype themselves, which is equally destructive.

“Just cause you’re black means you have to act a certain way.’Cause I don’t act like, you know ghetto and walking down with my pants down touching my ankles, that definitely gives people the impression that I’m not black, I’m like white on the inside,” says Brown.

The group hates stereotyping like this. It’s is what they get most passionate about during our discussion. At 14 and 15, larger societal issues of racial equality are not front and center in their minds. They don’t feel race relations and economic injustice are so bad that another March on Washington is needed.

“I would join march if it was about this – the judgement of people. Not even about their skin, but just judging them because of the content of their character,” says Smith.

Jenny Brundin is an education reporter for Colorado Public Radio. She tweets @CPRBrundin.

Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

Let's continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with the question: How does Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech resonate today? From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Colorado Public Radio's Jenny Brundin sat down to watch the speech with a group of teenagers at William Smith High School in Aurora, a racially and ethnically diverse city east of Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

THE REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I am happy to join with you today...

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Four teenagers, 14 and 15 years old, black, Latino and white, huddle around a laptop watching a grainy black and white video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

KING JR.: As the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

BRUNDIN: Watching them watch the 16-minute speech, they don't show emotion over King's soaring rhetoric. But the content, yes. Justin Morales recognizes the speech as pivotal.

JUSTIN MORALES: I believe that it was a major point in American history. It made me think, like, what if the speech never happened? Would we be living in different conditions? Maybe we wouldn't be at this point we are right now.

BRUNDIN: And where we are right now, these students say, is a much better place. They don't see institutionalized segregation like there was in 1963. Here's Triston Childs, who's white.

TRISTON CHILDS: I definitely think that African-American, that race in America today, is free, but there is discrimination, but it's not as present as it used to be.

DEJA BROWN: Yes, but...

BRUNDIN: Here's Deja Brown, who's African-American.

BROWN: Like, you know, everyone's not really free because there's always still that stereotype in the back of their head, like, oh, they're black, so they must be like this.

BRUNDIN: Justin Morales agrees. He says blacks now aren't crippled by the manacles of segregation, as King intoned, but...

MORALES: There's still black people that are in poverty, and they don't have really good jobs or aren't making a lot of money or aren't succeeding that much.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

KING JR.: One hundred years later, the negro lives on a lonely island of poverty.

BRUNDIN: But it's not the economic injustice theme in King's speech that resonates most. It's the images of racial harmony and this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

KING JR.: That my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

BROWN: I do feel like I'm judged by my - the color of my skin a lot...

BRUNDIN: Deja Brown.

BROWN: ...because, like, there's jokes going around, like, oh, she's black, so she does this and this and this, like, you know, or people instantly assume I'm going to do something bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

KING JR.: One day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

RACHAEL SMITH: I'm really comfortable at our school.

BRUNDIN: Here's Deja's friend, Rachael Smith, who is white.

SMITH: I never think about, like, race. So this is kind of weird for me because you're like, oh, how do you feel like black people feel? I'm like, I never really consider them as like black people. I'm like, oh, that's Deja, like...

BRUNDIN: Though the kids see more racial harmony today, they see other destructive forces at work. The kids say races stereotype themselves, which is equally destructive. Here's Deja.

BROWN: Just because you're black means that you have to act a certain way. Because I don't act like, you know, ghetto and walking down with my pants touching my ankles. So like, you know, that definitely gives people the impression that I'm not black. I'm, like, white on the inside.

BRUNDIN: The group hates stereotyping like this. It's what they get most passionate about during our discussion. At 14 and 15, larger societal issues of racial equality are not front and center on their minds. They don't feel race relations and economic injustice are so bad that another March on Washington is needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

KING JR.: I still have a dream.

SMITH: I would join a march if it was about this, the judgment of people, not even about their skin, but just judging them because of the content of their character.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

KING JR.: ...one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed.

BRUNDIN: For HERE AND NOW, I'm Jenny Brundin in Aurora, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.