You're not alone if you feel like things are pretty grim in the U.S. right now. However, sometimes it helps to stop for a moment for an injection of an unlikely feeling: optimism. Today, that comes from someone who knows a little something about embracing light in a dark time: Bernice King, whose optimism is exactly what we need at the moment. It's a particularly meaningful day not only for King, but also for America; it was 54 years ago today that her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., made his "I Have a Dream" speech.
In a tweet on Monday morning, King published a picture of herself with a statue of her father and an inspiring message: "On the 54th anniversary of my father's 'I Have a Dream' speech, I remain hopeful. I still have a dream worth working for humanity."
The photo and its accompanying text are especially poignant at this moment in American history. The country is only weeks removed from the violence in Charlottesville, where Heather Heyer, a civil rights fighter, was killed by a domestic terrorist and where white supremacists and American neo-Nazis marched without anything hiding their faces. Right wing groups keep organizing marches, and counter-protestors keep meeting them — sometimes, unfortunately, with violence. The fires of racism, fanned by a race-baiting president, burn just as strongly as ever — only now, they're burning out in the open.
In short, this isn't the world that Dr. King imagined in his speech. The institutional racism that he decried so forcefully is no less evident now than it was then, even without any Jim Crow laws on the books. The people who thought that the country belonged to them instead of him haven't disappeared; instead, they were out marching in full force in Charlottesville. And just Friday, the president awarded a racist law enforcement official with a pardon after the justice system had nearly sent that official to jail.
It's not a pretty picture. But the thing to remember — something King clearly keeps in mind — is that it was never a pretty picture in the civil rights era either. Optimism was always necessary, even in the face of the steepest uphill battle, because the dream was always — and still is — worth fighting for.
King's words carry a bittersweet tinge, as the reason to express hope comes with the implicit meaning that her dream has yet to be achieved. We study the civil rights era in history classes, but the current administration is proving that those chapters need another section. The work has not yet been finished, as long as Confederate monuments still stand and neo-Nazis feel comfortable marching publicly. But Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for a dream that he believed in, and his daughter has tirelessly continued that work. Yes, we need to keep up with the news and and continue the struggle — but we also need to carry that same flame of optimism that Bernice King has displayed.