Today, on what would be Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92nd birthday, we reflect on his life and legacy. It is a legacy that never ceases to inspire and challenge us to work harder to confront honestly the great challenges of each era, to sacrifice more, to seek more forgiveness and understanding, and to hold ourselves accountable to our country’s foundational commitment to seek equality and a better life for all its citizens.  

Beginning in the early 1960s, Dr. King spoke frequently about an “American Dream” that was deeply influenced by the vision of our founding fathers. In a sermon to his Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation on July 4, 1965, he said: 

“[The Dream] is found in those majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, words lifted to cosmic proportions: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ This is a dream. It’s a great dream...

The American dream reminds us…that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.

And so it is marvelous and great that we do have a dream, that we have a nation with a dream; and to forever challenge us; to forever give us a sense of urgency; to forever stand in the midst of the 'isness' of our terrible injustices; to remind us of the 'oughtness' of our noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood.”

Dr. King’s message of equality, dignity and worth has stood the test of time, and has a particular urgency today, after one of the most tumultuous years in American history. Hundreds of thousands have died from a global pandemic that is reshaping every facet of American life, from health care, to education, to the economy.  The well-documented political divide among Americans is deep, and the challenges of racial and economic injustice that Dr. King fought to address sadly still dominate our civic discourse. 

At the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream, we believe that the opportunity to pursue one’s Dream should be equal, real and accessible for everyone. This is only possible when there is equality before the law and access to justice, democracy and freedom, and when every human being is treated with dignity and respect. We stand firm in our values of optimism, inclusivity and action, and will amplify the voices of organizations and individuals seeking to promote expanded and equal access to education, good health and financial security for all.

May this year’s celebration of the life of Dr. King provide us with the opportunity to pause to reflect on both our nation’s history and current events, and challenge us to work as one nation toward an America with true equality of opportunity, an America that at last realizes the ideals set forth by our founding fathers, and an America where Dr. King’s vision of the American Dream moves from “oughtness” to “isness."