Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. Yes, that speech. The one they replay every MLK day and on April 4th, the anniversary of his death.
In his dream, he wanted men and women, boys and girls, no matter the color of their skin, to join hands and live in peace and brotherhood.
When his birthday became a national holiday, our family lived in Waipahu. On Jan. 20, 1986, we stayed home from school, as Hawai‘i did not proclaim MLK day until Jan. 16, 1989.
“Now is the time to dream like Martin Luther King, Jr. would,” my mother said. I did not understand what she meant then, but I do now. In those days, I read non-stop and continued to dream.
I wanted to be the next Oprah Winfrey instead of the next Toni Morrison. When jobs or schools I attended did not recognize MLK day, I stayed home as a tribute to the dreams of my mother and MLK.
Our birth month is not the only thing we have in common. He spoke of peaceful protests, love through his poetic writings, and he used his words as another means of social injustice. As a writer, I have grown through his knowledge and wisdom to put love in the light and leave hate in the dark.
As each New Year begins, we reflect on the previous year. What we have learned and how far we have grown and how closer we are to reaching our goals. In January, everyone makes a list, creates a chalk board of goals and a plan to get there. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. my birthday falls in January and because of the MLK holiday, I am given more time to create plans and a goal to reach my dreams.
Before there was Martin Luther King, Jr. there were dreamers. These dreamers sprouted from their motherland and sought a place of peace. Most of these men and women sought a place to call home. Some of these women, like my mother, they were in search of home.
Women like Betsey Stockton, who was born in 1798 in New Jersey and found her way to Hawai‘i in 1822 in servitude to the Stewart family. As a missionary, she started a school for students on the island of Maui. Betsey Stockton became her own motivator. A most sought after advisor, the color of her skin did not hold this Black woman down.
Like Alice Ball, a chemist and the first Black woman to receive her master’s degree from the University of Hawai‘i, where she would later teach and assist in the cure for diseases.
Their contributions to Hawai‘i’s educational system is undeniable. Their dreams were realized, but was their place on American soil solidified? Did they find their space to call home? I believe Ball, who died at the tender age of 24 in Hawai‘i, found their homelands. Stockton returned with the Stewarts to the mainland, where she died.
Black women migrants from the mainland were not the only strong women making a difference and realizing their dream through struggles, as Martin Luther King Jr. did. Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, whose estate passed down to her from Princess Ruth Keanolani Kanahoahoa Keelikolani, later became the Kamehameha schools.
These women, who fought for the freedom of Hawaiian people and its lands and their culture, sought their dream, a dream not realized in their lifetime, but progress was made.
Many Asian women who emigrated to the Hawaiian lands during the 19th century through their husbands or parents found a space to claim as their own. Women from China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines and most recently, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Taiwan and Hong Kong, migrate here in search of a dream, in search of prosperity. Now more than ever, men and women of all cultural backgrounds are in search of a place to call home. We are in search of our dream.
The power of the migrating woman is transformative. Women who have become doctors, cured diseases, opened schools, became educational leaders and stopped the annihilation of their race: these dreamers deserve to find their space in the world.
We all deserve a place to call home. I am not naïve. I know racism, sexism and the fight for justice will not easily disappear, if at all. Even in a land brimming with many ethnic backgrounds and every shade of color cannot be exempt.
The history of my family’s migration from Africa to chains to Hawai‘i is where I find my space–my place to call home.
Will we ever be without tension in America? Can justice bring this country peace? The answers lie within us all. The world can only become better when we, as a collective, make it so. When in doubt, look to your ancestors for inspiration.
As a student, as a local to Hawai‘i, as a writer and a dreamer, I believe it is our duty to remember our basic rights as human-beings. They have passed the fight for equality and representation down to us. I have learned all I can from Martin Luther King Jr. and his writings. The least I can do is share what I know and claim my space in this American land.
Photo design: Amy Lowe