My poetry discussion group looked at a Langston Hughes poem this week. It was the poem Harlem which is also known as A Dream Deferred.
Harlem (or A Dream Deferred)
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The poem inspired Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, and countless others.
A participant in our discussion group regularly visits with prisoners for conversations about poetry. After reading this poem with a group of them, she asked them about their dreams…and they were confused. Their concerns were not about dreams which had been deferred, but that they never had dreams at all!
Before we can be encouraged in our dreams, we need to be in a place where we can have dreams in the first place!
As I met with the PTA at Jefferson-Houston school this week, I realized that the parents, faculty and staff know this. They are creating an environment to provoke dreams!
The children at this school are starting from a difficult place. 10% of the student population is homeless. 82% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch.
It’s hard to have a dream when you’re hungry. After the children received our congregation’s donations of food for over the winter break, the principal decided to start a food pantry in the school. Dreams provoked.
It’s hard to have a dream when you don’t feel safe around those who seek to protect you. Alexandria’s sheriff department has reached out to the school to begin regular times in which local police officers will take part in recreational activities with the children. Dreams provoked.
It’s hard to have a dream when poverty makes you appear different as a child. Teachers at the school have been partnering with the Salvation Army to provide school uniforms for children who aren’t able to afford them. Dreams provoked.
It’s hard to have a dream when you don’t have role models. Three fathers of students have started a group called, “Men Making Men,” to create a more visible presence of males at school events. Dreams provoked.
It’s hard to have a dream when you don’t know what’s possible to dream. Sixth grade students are being encouraged to become part of a new cohort of students which will be tutored and mentored in preparation for college. Dreams provoked.
Parents, faculty and staff are doing the extraordinary work of provoking dreams. Maybe on this Martin Luther King Day weekend, our responsibility as a congregation and as a community is to ensure that these children’s dreams are not left drying up, festering, crusting over, or…exploding.