At Your Service: September 3, 2008
Dreams are the lofty stuff of which futures are made. As we humans aspire to improve our lot on this earth, we envision that which is beyond our reality and call it our dreams. For the last couple of centuries, this country has been the source of dreams for millions of people.
The yearning for religious freedom carried British and Dutch subjects over hazardous waters to these shores. As settlements were established, other Europeans followed their dreams to this land. When the ties to their nations of origin became oppressive, they fought for independence, declaring themselves to be The United States of America. In the proclamation that declared their intentions, they wrote that it was a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.”
Despite the vision expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the reality of equality and freedom did not apply to everyone. In the process of forming the nation, the indigenous people were considered the enemy and battle after battle stripped them of their lands. In order to provide cheap agricultural labor, slaves were brought from Africa. In China, people were “shanghaied,” or kidnapped and sold into slavery, to provide the workers that would extend the railroad system west. And women, of every color and background, were inherently excluded from the dream.
There is an importance between dreams and fantasies; dreams have the potential to come true. While dreams may appear to be beyond one’s reach, they are rooted in reality. Dreams are those things we know that if we work hard enough or smart enough for, can be made real. This week, the dream we think of as being American moved closer to reality for all Americans.
For the young, dreams are based on the accumulated input from their family and the culture in which they live. To the extent that they can see something as being possible to achieve, their dreams grow as their talents and interests develop. If a young Michael Phelps had not been taken to a swimming pool, he would never have dreamed of being a champion and eventually earned eight Olympic gold medals.
Even more than exposure to the physical possibility, having a role model encourages young people to dream big. The selection of Barack Obama as the Democratic Presidential candidate forever changes the dreams of young people of color. The Republican nod to Sara Palin as the vice-presidential candidate (a first for that party) opens new possibilities for girls.
The irony of Obama’s selection coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was poignant; 45 years to the day after he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’…. 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.” Racism and gender bias have not gone away in America, but the volume on their voices is being turned down.
It has been called the American Dream for over a century. It is the belief that anyone can make it because we are all created equal. While many have tried to breach the color and gender line for the highest positions in the land before; this time someone is going to make it. The American dream became accessible to millions more this week. It is a point in time of which we can all be proud.