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Thursday, February 21, 2013

"I Have a Dream"...

This is a Thursday Diary Entry that will be a little different from all of the other ones that I have done in the past.  It will mostly feature commentary that has to do with “Black History Month”, and you’ll see that towards the end of the piece.  But rather than write about it, it might be easier to show you it.  You’ll get the gist of it as you read on.

February 21, 2013

Well, diary, we’re almost wrapping up another month in the year 2013.  I know February’s a short month, but still...

There’s still a week to go in the week, and I promise that I have some fantastic topics to share to conclude Black History Month with on my blog.  I hope that everyone has learned a lot of things that they may not have known.  I can honestly tell you that I have!

That’s part of the reason why I love doing this blog.  I’ve always been a fan of doing research and looking up things.  I think that’s why I’ve always seemed to do well on history projects and school assignments that involve doing a lot of information seeking.  I love looking up things in periodicals, magazines, books, and the Internet in order to help me learn about a variety of different subjects.  It helps me keep more connected with the world we live in.

And, hey, if I were to ever become a contestant on Jeopardy, I want to be prepared for anything!  (Appearing as a game show contestant is on my bucket list, you know!)

But here’s where the trouble always began.  I could type up a report, print it neatly in perfect size 12 Times New Roman font, and attach it with a staple or a coloured paper clip, and hand it into the teacher without worry.   You ask me to go up to the front of the class and read it aloud, or present it to the class, and that would be a different story.

I have always struggled with public speaking.  I hated it.  In some ways, I’m still very much uncomfortable with it. 

I think it started becoming uncomfortable when I was twelve years old, and I was in the seventh grade.  I still remember the assignment that I was given by my then teacher Miss Grant.  We were to come up with a three-minute speech on any topic of our choice, and present it to the whole class. 

I dreaded the moment intensely.  I had gone up in front of the class to present projects before, but I was always with other people then.  I wasn’t very good at public speaking back then, so I was the kid that held up the projects, or used the wooden pointer to point to the facts that my classmates were rambling off.

This was different.  I had to perform the speech all by myself.  And, I dreaded every minute of it.

Of course, part of that could have been the fact that I had chosen a rather weighty topic to talk about.  Most of the people in my class at the time wrote about their favourite hockey player, or a television show they liked, or going to see their favourite band in concert.

I chose a social commentary piece on bullying in schools.  And, well...let’s put it this way.  On paper, the speech seemed very good.  Very convincing.  But when I went up to the front of the classroom, I was heckled so badly that I actually forgot the words to my speech.  I did get through it, but I don’t think it ended up being very effective.  And, since that moment, I’ve been almost petrified to speak in public.

Mind you, over the years, I’ve gotten a little bit better at speaking in public.  Not so much throughout school though.  I remember almost hyperventilating during a Grade 12 media project presentation because I was so nervous, and I think that the only reason I got through my OAC English independent study presentation was the fact that I had taken a hefty dose of cough syrup during lunch hour to get over my cold, and I was slightly buzzed.  J

But, as an adult I feel more comfortable.  I refused to use the paging system at my workplace because I was afraid I would mess up, but it got easier each day.  And, of course, I wouldn’t have been able to write and present a send-off for a departing co-worker had I not gotten over the butterflies in my stomach.

That’s not to say that I don’t continue to feel apprehension about public speaking.  I don’t think there will be a moment in which I will ever feel 100% comfortable saying a speech in front of hundreds of people.  But, I’m also fairly good at hiding my fear and nervousness...or so I’ve been told, that is.

Still...I always admired people who could get up on stage and give a speech to people flawlessly.  Truth be told, I admit that I get a little bit jealous of people who can recite monologues, soliloquies, speeches, and presentations without so much as breaking a sweat, or stumbling their words, because I know that I’ll never really be fully comfortable making presentations myself.  Of course, they could be putting on a show as well, and they could be just as nervous as I am, and the only way that they are getting through it is by picturing their audience in their Wonderbras and BVD’s.

I think what’s even more important than having the ability to string together sentences and phrases together into a speech that is delivered with professionalism and eloquence is the information that they are presenting within the speech.  After all, you could be the master at making speeches...but if you don’t live up to your promises or you state facts and opinions that are offensive and cause divide, it kind of voids the perfect image that is initially portrayed.  At least, I see it as such.

So, it’s important to know what you’re talking about, as well as making sure that it is delivered in a way that people will talk about for...oh...fifty years.

You know, that reminds me of an event that took place almost fifty years ago.  And, as it so happens, it fits in quite nicely with “Black History Month”.

The date of this event was August 28, 1963, and the location was Washington D.C.  Here’s a little background of what was happening at the time of this event.

As many of you well know, the year 1963 was a year of change for African-American citizens living in the United States.  It was the year that one of the largest political rallies took place on American soil.  And, it was at this particular rally that one man issued a speech that was seventeen minutes in length...a speech that summarized the feelings of millions of African-American citizens perfectly.

The event was known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and was orchestrated by A. Philip Randolph, then President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  He also served as the President of the Negro American Labor Council and the vice-president of the AFL-CIO.

The year 1963 was chosen to host this demonstration for two reasons.  Firstly, it was a time period in which the Civil Rights Movement continued to grow stronger each day...and secondly, it was exactly one hundred years since President Lincoln passed the “Emancipation Proclamation”, which ordered all slaves in the Confederate States to be set free.

On the morning of August 28, 1963, it is estimated that over two thousand buses, twenty-one special trains, ten chartered airliners, and an endless count of automobiles met up in Washington D.C. to hold the March on Washington.  The march kicked off at the Washington Monument, and ended at the Lincoln Memorial.  And, here’s a little bit of trivia for all of you.  Believe it or not, the march started later than was planned because its leaders were meeting with members of Congress, which ran late.  So, the group of people decided to go on the march without them!  I guess they couldn’t wait!  It didn’t take too long for the leaders of the march to catch up though!

Now, there were several speakers, and performers that took part in the event, but in this case, the very best was saved for the very end, when Martin Luther King Jr. took to the stage to deliver what could very well be considered the most famous speech ever given during the entire twentieth century.

That speech was known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.  And, it’s only fitting that I post a link to the video in which King delivers his speech with eloquence and power.

(It’s seventeen minutes total, but if you can, make the time to watch the whole thing.  It’s so worth it, and hearing King say it out loud has a bigger impact than this blogger copying and pasting it word for word within the blog.)

The speech was estimated to have been delivered to over two hundred thousand people watching the event live...and that’s not counting the millions of people who watched the speech simulcast on television either.  It was that huge.

I mean, think about it.  That speech still sends tingles down the spines of millions of Americans fifty years after it was written.  And, the fact that the speech was finished just twenty-four hours before it was presented makes it even more remarkable.

I guess that I wanted to do a feature on this wonderful speech.  Not just because it was so well crafted and delivered with poise and elegance...but because it was a speech that helped make equality and fairness a daily part of life for millions of African-American citizens.  It’s true that there’s still some work that needs to be done...but in the fifty years that have passed since that speech was first delivered...well, the world’s come a long way, baby...

...all because a man had a dream.

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