Barack Obama’s rise to the White House is a perfect consummation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, according to one longtime Utah civil rights activist.
Dreams were a recurring theme in Davis’s address. Several times he referenced the poem “A Dream Deferred” by Harlem poet Langston Hughes, suggesting to the audience that pursuing dreams has driven the progress of the American civil rights movement. But there is more work to be done, Davis said; with more young black men in prison than college, it’s apparent the black community hasn’t always taken advantage of the opportunities earned in their behalf.
Davis said his childhood was marked by abundant desire and few opportunities, but he fears it’s the other way around for today’s youth.
“We have reason to hope, something to look forward to — something better than what we have always known,” he said. “In 2009, we can do better.”
Davis spoke of growing up in Georgia during the days of separate-but-equal treatment, using secondhand materials in school and having to go around back to eat at restaurants. He left for college with $27.50 his father gave him, and spent half of that on a bus ticket getting there. Today, he has degrees from four universities and has taught at the University of Utah.
“I was never able to lay my hands on a new textbook until I entered college,” he said.
He urged the students present to take similar initiative and work to make the country better for their having been here.
“It’s time for a change,” he said, adding that it’s time to “put our shoulders together and push together in the direction of freedom and liberty for everyone.”
The audience, predominantly white, seemed responsive to Davis’s message.
“It was very eloquent,” said Josh Higginson, a senior psychology student. “He’s presented some really great ideas.”
Camille Drakulich, a junior studying business marketing, said it was clear Davis’s personal experiences added much to his perspective.
“It was very interesting to hear from someone who actually lived through all those things,” she said.
“I was there the day [King] uttered those words, and I’ll be there next week when they inaugurate the new president — because he dreamed, and the dream is being realized,” said Rev. France Davis, pastor of Salt Lake City’s Calvary Baptist Church, in a speech celebrating the civil rights leader Thursday at Utah Valley University. “His election offers to all the world the particularly powerful opportunity to know that if you hold onto the dream, it is not ‘mission impossible.’ “