MLK's Legacy and the Power of Dreams

Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is Dean of Webster University's School of Business & Technology.

As a child growing up in Africa, I was a dreamer. My parents never dismissed my dreams. They were always encouraging. No matter how outright unbelievable my dreams were, they would assure me that dreams do come true. Dreams provide a glimpse of what the future will look like. How I wish I could have recorded all those dreams.

But Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream was recorded. It was a dream that was played out in front of millions of people and, like most dreams, no one really knew how it would play out. As the dream was recalled over the years, it became clear that this was a significant and compelling vision of the future. Martin's dream was in the form of a remarkable prose on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Most of us can hear him recite this dream in our subconscious. "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." It is a dream that visualizes a future where all those things that seemed impossible and improbable will happen despite overwhelming obstacles.

I would like to believe that Martin Luther King's dream highlighted how difficult it is to make change happen. Martin spoke about how mountains and hills (obstacles) shall be made lower and rough places (institutional changes) will be made straight. The recognition was that monumental changes of this magnitude take considerable time. Indeed, it takes the force of nature to break through the harsh reality of status quo and history.

People like MLK who do not hold official positions of leadership but who exercise leadership nonetheless are often perceived as deviants or troublemakers. Why do such people try to lead even though they lack authority? Because they see a real need. When official leadership fails or fails even to try, so-called mavericks move to fill the leadership vacuum.

That was the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The civil rights leader challenged the status quo. He championed unity as a means to an end in which all Americans are not bound by race or economic status but are valued as individuals. At a minimum, Dr. King's sense of constructive impatience inspired many blacks of his day who saw a courageous man with the audacity to challenge an establishment that held all the power and authority.

Dr. King was assassinated in the middle of his dream. His efforts to transform a divided nation were interrupted, cut short. Yet, he succeeded in transforming an ideal into a cause that ultimately yielded remarkable results. In his celebrated "I Have A Dream" conversation with America, Dr.
King gave us a blueprint for how to lead and assured us that the power to do so resides within each of us. His inspiration lay in showing us how to lead from where we are and in reminding us that leadership is exercised best for a just cause.

As we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I want to appeal to the citizens of this nation and by extension the world to remember that Martin's true legacy taught us to not be afraid to lead and that we are not obliged to accept the status quo. He challenged us to look beyond our present and to create a greater future.

Dreaming enables us to transcend the present and position us on the balcony for a better view of the future. And, because dreaming offers no restrictions, the greatest dreamers are often characterized as crazy and out of touch with reality. What history has shown us is that you may vilify them, you can criticize them, and you may even assassinate them. But, you can't kill a dreamer's dream. MLK's dream took a long time to come to fruition, with small significant steps and some big setbacks along the way. As we seek to tackle the magnificent challenges of our time -- the great recession, health care, sustainability, poverty and peace -- let us pause for a minute to remember this lesson of dreaming with eyes wide open and the results that are possible.

Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that adversity is a lot easier to overcome than success and that there is a power in dreaming. He knew it would happen. He even foresaw that his own demise may keep him from seeing his dream come true. "I've seen the promised land," he said. "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land." Forty-six years later, his vision is still unfolding. But one thing is crystal clear. Dreams do come true.




By Benjamin Ola
Special to CBSNews.com
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