The University Record, January 23, 1996

Johnson recreates 'I have a dream' speech for hundreds

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services 

Several hundred Washtenaw County high school students too young to remember Martin Luther King Jr. came face to face with King's vision for America on Jan. 12 as they listened to a dramatic reading of his "I Have A Dream" address, which King delivered on Aug. 28, 1963 during the civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

George Johnson, a behavior specialist and youth counselor at Inkster Public Schools, first gave the speech as a 17-year-old high school student and says he probably has given it 2,000 or more times since then. Johnson's performance was sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic and Multicultural Affairs.

"Dr. King was not only a dreamer, but a revolutionary and visionary," said undergraduate student Camilyah L. Johnson, who introduced her father and moderated the panel discussion that followed his speech.

The theme of King's revolutionary message was echoed by Thom Saffold, president of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice Steering Committee and education director for the Bethel United Church of Christ.

"Martin Luther King Jr. was above all else a militant spirit," Safford said. "He was not the safe, sanitized St. Martin reflected in most commemorations. Dr. King derived his vision, courage and militancy from his religion. He taught that living the Christian faith requires us to be subversive and to change the world."

Graduate student Ahmad Abdul Rahman, in comments addressed especially to the young Black men in the audience, talked about how individual ignorance and a culture that worships materialism produces "a form of slavery outside of chains."

"For many of you, there is a plan and it's not to go to a place called the University of Michigan. It's to go to places called Jackson, Ionia and Marquette. We have money for prisons, but not for schools. There's a reason for that."

Rahman told the students how slaves were kept ignorant and not allowed to learn to read, so they would never have the power to think outside their local environment or escape from it.

"You must step outside the values of your little rap music culture and realize the world is bigger than the south side of Ypsilanti or the west side of Ann Arbor," he said. "If you are thinking of honoring Dr. King, buy yourselves a light bulb and get yourselves some books." Reading, Rahman said, was the secret to freedom for Black slaves in the 1800s, and it still is today.