By Sara Brenner
Taking part in history has always been very important to my father. Through his influence, this has become equally important to me. So when my father called a few months ago and asked me to share a special anniversary with him, I readily agreed. Last Saturday, we honored his wish—we marched on Washington together.
On Saturday, my father carried nothing is his hands. But as we marched, I was struck by how much he and so many others carried with them. For my father, it was his memories and the profound impact the experience had on his 17-year-old worldview.
In 1963, my father was 17 and about to head off to college. He took the train from NYC to Union Station to attend the March. While the March had an unbelievable feeling of peace (as it felt to him again last Saturday), he recalled being greeted by National Guardsmen at Union Station: there was a great fear of violence, though no violence resulted.
He described the original March as a watershed moment – that in the steps they took, they could feel the world changing. It brought great hope to him and to many others. He became a history major and civil rights attorney, before going into private practice.
During Saturday’s march, we spoke with many others who clearly carried with them their memories, their hardships, and moments of discrimination. They also carried tangible things: their children on their backs, family members in wheelchairs, signs from the 1963 March (see photo), and many iPhones and cameras. My father had the opportunity to share his memories with people we met. I was amazed by how many people wanted to talk with him and hear his experiences from 1963. One fellow from Indianapolis spoke with my father at length. They exchanged photos, and since the March, they have exchanged emails. Here is his initial email to my father:
Good Afternoon Joseph,
It was truly a pleasure meeting you and your daughter on Saturday. The March was amazing. We are sharing your story with our family and friends. Change will come when everyone works together in their communities. Continue to have a blessed week.
GOD BLESSED and stay in touch.
I am amazed by how deeply people want to connect for good, by how much they want to dream forward, and by how much they want the march to bring about change for voter rights legislation, for more jobs, for equal access to quality education for children, for gay rights, and more.
While many of Saturday’s speeches were inspiring, none was more moving that of 9-year old activist, Asean Johnson. He started his speech by saying that “50-years ago John Lewis was the youngest speaker and today I am the youngest speaker.” You could feel the torch being passed and the future and past colliding. It was what Dr. King would have wanted, and part his own dream. Asean went on, “Every child deserves a great education. Every school deserves equal funding and resources.” Johnson explained that he was participating in the march after fighting the closure of 50 public schools in African American and Latino Chicago communities. I am fighting “for education, justice and freedom… I encourage all of you to keep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive. Help us fight for freedom, racial equality, jobs, and public education, because I have a dream that we shall overcome.”
We need these types of events in history to galvanize progress. Last Saturday was a powerful moment, though the potential long-term impact remains to be seen. Will it stand simply as an important moment or instead as fuel for a movement? It is striking how far we have come in some respects and how limited our progress has been in others. Voting rights, education and employment are not new issues.
We’ve been inspired and honored by change makers who have recently shared what they dream forward to, including Greg Landsman and the Strive Partnership, Michael Brown and City Year, Tiffany Cooper Gueye and BELL, Lynsey Wood Jeffries and Higher Achievement, Anne Warhover and The Colorado Health Foundation, and Jamie Merisotis and Lumina Foundation.
I hope this historical moment will provide you with the opportunity to reflect on your dreams and share them with your colleagues, family, and friends. What are you dreaming forward to today?