“One hundred years later.”

The best 17 minutes of your day. Any day.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech is good for your soul (and returns us to an important perspective) in turbulent times.

Although we are currently presented with the greatest challenge our democracy has faced in generations, from a political, economic and cultural standpoint, the division we see in America today is not unprecedented. As Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett point out in their new book, The UpSwing, the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th century shared one critical characteristic: simultaneous turmoil in the political, economic, and cultural arenas.

Dr. King was part of the high point of the post-Gilded Age up swing, when we made tremendous progress toward closing the gaps across so many political, economic, and cultural divides.

Dr. King’s assassination, and the tumultuous era surrounding it, marked the beginning of a down swing, and the gaps in our societal fabric have been growing (and politically weaponized) ever since.

The good news is that we, the people, have the ability to return our country to the up swing, acting as a “we” society instead of an “I” society should we choose to do the work.

Delivering this speech at the Lincoln Memorial, in the midst of a bitter and often ugly struggle, Dr. King gave a message of optimism and challenged his supporters to do better: “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Those words were forgotten on January 6 and they remain un-echoed by today’s political leadership.

So, as news headlines continue to offer a bleak assessment of the current down swing and the seemingly wilful rifts in empathy, caring, and accommodation are laid bare in our communities, on this day and every day, it’s important to take Dr. King’s message to heart: The hardest struggles are often long ones and optimism allows us to do the work required to make first incremental, then sustained, and then permanent progress.

As we move towards a more perfect union, it’s important to listen to his speech again and realize how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

Do you have another speech or moment in Dr. King’s life or legacy? If so, please share it with us at USTomorrow.

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