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Pfleger: “We have a long way to go to reach Dr. King’s dream”

Photo caption: Father Michael Pfleger

The world will not forget Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, made August 28, 1963, including Father Michael Pfleger who is a priest today because of King’s character, commitment to civil rights and his love for children, who Pfleger said, today are under attack.

Sixty-years ago it was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who during the 1963 “March on Washington” near the Lincoln Memorial, whispered to Dr. King, “Tell them about the dream.” And so King strayed from his prepared remarks, delivering his world renowned “I Have a Dream” speech.

“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. I have a dream,” King told more than 250,000 Black and white people and 3,000 reporters.

And it was because of the children that then-17-year-old Pfleger, on August 5, 1966, decided to become a priest as he watched his neighbors throwing rocks, spitting, and hurling racial slurs at the iconic Dr. King as he and 700 other civil rights activists from the Chicago Freedom Movement marched through Marquette Park calling for fair and open housing.

On August 14, 2016, Pfleger had just completed leading supporters on his regular Friday night peace march. He ended it by the St. Sabina Memorial Wall that bears pictures of slain children, including that of his foster son Jarvis Franklin, who like the others on the Wall was a victim of gun violence.

In 2016, Pfleger told supporters how on August 5, 1966 he was riding his bike when a crowd formed at the presence of Dr. King and his supporters.

They did not like King’s message. “It was where my life got changed,” Pfleger told his supporters. “It is where I saw Dr. King and where I saw the violence and the hate. I saw him in the greatest demonstration of non-violence that I ever saw.

“I left that day realizing there was something about this man, and I became obsessed with him. I am a minister because of that day in Marquette Park. It’s kind of a turning point in my life,” he said of the August 5, 1966, incident. “I thank God for that day, and I thank God for him in my life”

A then young Pfleger marveled at how Dr. King didn’t react when someone threw a rock and hit King who fell to the ground but did not react in anger. The racist names hurled at him seemingly rolled off his back because he pressed on, marching for fair housing in the racist Marquette community. At 17, Pfleger said he wanted to be just like Dr. King.

Fast forward 57 years later, on Friday, August 25, 2023, just three days before the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Pfleger told reporters, “We cannot lose sight of the dream because the dream for beloved communities is in believing in equity, equality, and justice because if we lose sight of that then we turn to hopelessness and we can’t let that happen.”

But 60 years later, Pfleger, said, “We have to recognize that we are a long way from the beloved community. We are a long way from what Dr. King spoke about and called us to do, particularly living in this day of hate and so much violence and so much meanness.”

Pfleger was referring to the time when Dr. King said, “When you see something that is not right, you must do something. Each of us must do our part to help build the Beloved Community.”

In talking to a young man about the state of America, without saying his name, Pfleger spoke about former President Donald Trump and his having been charged in four criminal cases resulting in a total of 91 criminal counts in a span of four-and-a-half months. “And he is running for the highest office in the United States,” Pfleger said.

“We have people coming to our Strong Futures (Violence Intervention program) who are waiting on a case for selling weed and they can’t get a job until that case has been resolved,” Pfleger said. “America is just what it is, but because of the injustice and the inequality we have a long way to go to try and reach Dr. King’s dream.”

And there is a reason for that Pfleger said, explaining, “There are systems and people in place to keep us from reaching that. There are systems that have been established in America from the beginning,” he said. “Remember, America was founded on genocide. It was birthed in slavery…and white supremacy.

“There are systems in place to stop us from ever making that dream a reality, which means we got to fight,” said Pfleger. “We are crazy if we think it’s just going to happen. It’s not just going to happen. We have to fight for it. We’ve got to demand it, and we’ve got to make it happen or it’s never going to happen. We owe it to all those who lost their lives.”

Pfleger said we have to keep marching, keep demanding and believe “that we can make the dream happen.” He added, “We have to recommit ourselves because there are too many people who don’t want to vote. They don’t want to fight. They don’t want to march. They don’t want to shout and speak up, and we cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen at least not at St. Sabina.”

When asked about the number of children killed so far this year, Pfleger echoed the special greetings used by some Africans concerning the next generation and told reporters that Chicago’s children are under attack by shooters who are either wounding or killing our children almost every week.

He told of the time in the early 1970s when he was a chaplain at the Cook County Jail. If a person was arrested for killing a child or a woman, they would have to be segregated from other detainees because, Pfleger said, “They would be killed.”

Standing on the steps of St. Sabina, he referred to the African tribe Masai, which has a tradition of greeting each other by saying, “Casserian Engeri,” which means “And how are the children?”

Traditionally, the Africans do not ask each other, “How are you?” or “How’s your day?” Rather, they ask each other about the next generation, the children.

“If the children are not well, the community is not well. The children in Chicago are not well,” Pfleger told reporters then began his peace march calling for an end to gun violence. Several marchers held red and white signs that read, “A gun is not the answer.”

Calling for unity, Pfleger said Blacks, Hispanics, and others young and older can “all come together and make America what she promised to be.”

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