Dr. King and the hero’s journey of freedom

Since today is Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to share one of the greatest speeches by a great role model for living into the New Story of connection and belonging. In this speech, King sets a high bar for our nation:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The film, “Selma,” has only increased my admiration for his humanity, his courage and moral conviction. There were several scenes that showed beautifully how much King needed the people around him — Young, Abernathy, and the others — not only for their strategic acumen, but for their moral support, to bolster his spirits when he was down or doubting the movement. King was a great man, but he was human, subject to the emotional ups and downs of any man.

His deep emotional life must have contributed to his masterful oration. He could reach audiences in ways they had probably never been reached before. He knew how to make the speech be about them, to anoint them the heroes of the stories he told. His speeches created the heroes of the movement.

In this TED talk, Nancy Duarte diagrams the structure of a great speech. Her second example, starting at about 11:50 min., is the “I Have a Dream” speech, a fresh perspective on Dr. King’s magical connection with the audience. Duarte suggests that King toggled between stories, starting with the current state of affairs, and alternating stories of what could be. By the end, he had painted such an inspiring, poetic, and dramatic picture of what could be, people responded enthusiastically to his call to action.

“And I say to you today my friends, let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!’”

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