Poetry Challenge: Honor MLK By Describing How You Dream A World
As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, Morning Edition asks for you to write a poem that starts with the words "I dream a world."
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We've lost so many lives to the coronavirus and police brutality. And just as we ushered in 2021 with all kinds of new optimism, there was a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, the very temple of our country's democracy, and launched a violent, deadly attack against the U.S. government.
KWAME ALEXANDER, BYLINE: And let's be clear, these were not protesters. Our incoming president stated they were a riotous mob, insurrectionists. So how do we now make glorious this winter of our discontent? Where do we go from here, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, chaos or community?
MARTIN: I, for one, choose community. I'm joined by Kwame Alexander. He's our MORNING EDITION poet in residence, of course. Kwame, the question now for so many of us is how we do this, how we come together when so much of the foundation that holds us together has been chipped away.
ALEXANDER: Well, we can't just hope it's going to get better. It's going to take us dreaming a new world.
MARTIN: Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate. He wrote, quote, "In spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream."
ALEXANDER: Fifty-eight years ago, when he took to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and delivered that "I Have a Dream" speech, he changed the course of our history. And what most of us don't realize is that his speech, it had its origins in a poem filled with aspiration and inspiration. The metaphors, the political overtones, the themes - they're linked to a poem called "I Dream A World" by Langston Hughes. Read it with me, Rachel.
MARTIN: Yeah, I'd love to.
(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "I DREAM A WORLD")
MARTIN: (Reading) I dream a world where man, no other man will scorn, where love will bless the earth, and peace its paths adorn.
ALEXANDER: (Reading) I dream a world where all will know sweet freedom's way, where greed no longer saps the soul nor avarice blights our day. A world I dream where Black or white, whatever race you be, will share the bounties of the earth and every man is free.
MARTIN: (Reading) Where wretchedness will hang its head and joy, like a pearl, attends the needs of all mankind - of such I dream, my world.
ALEXANDER: What's interesting is it was Langston's favorite poem. He used to end his readings with that piece.
MARTIN: Yeah, I can see why. I mean, it's hope in the chaos. And it attends to the needs of all of us like a good poem does. And there are so many parallels - right? - between this Langston Hughes poem and Dr. King's speech - talk of dreams and equality and freedom. So - you know, maybe that's how we start the work of dreaming this new world, Kwame. We imagine it, we say it, we claim it, we write it, and then we live it.
ALEXANDER: So it is written, so it shall be.
MARTIN: So listeners, let's write our way out of this moment, to the degree that we're able, into a space of possibility. We'd like you to write a poem that begins with I dream a world, a poem about what we hope for in 2021.
ALEXANDER: And what we will work for. Your poem can rhyme like Langston's, or it doesn't have to, like Dr. King's speech. It just has to dream us out of this tribulation.
MARTIN: Submit your poem to us at npr.org/idreamaworld. And then, like he does, Kwame's going to take lines from some of your pieces and create a tapestry, create a community crowdsourced poem.
ALEXANDER: We're in a tunnel of hope, but there is light at the end of it. Let's get to it, folks.
MARTIN: Let's do it. Kwame Alexander - he's a regular contributor to MORNING EDITION and the author of "Light For The World To See: A Thousand Words On Race And Hope."
Kwame, thank you.
ALEXANDER: Dream on, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHUCK LEAVELL'S "HIGHER GROUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.