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award-winning bestseller Dream

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Connect the dreams of Gandhi and King to the election of Barack Obama as President

"I have a dream," said Martin Luther King Jr. "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 today!"

Our dreams as individuals and communities are built on the work and ideas of people who have come before us in history. And most big, world-changing dreams evolve over a long period of time – sometimes generations.

Barack Obama is the first African-American US President. That dream achieved is the result of decades of work and social action by many people, including Martin Luther King Jr. Obama's achievement reflects King's legacy of tolerance, equality, and respect. Obama was "not judged by the color of his skin but by the content of [his] character."

Illustration by Robert Ingpen

King's famous "I have a dream…" quotation is included on a pivotal central spread in Dream. The theme of the illustration on the page, done by Hans Christian Andersen Medal winner Robert Ingpen of Australia, is hope overcoming fear. Discuss links between the meaning of the King quotation to the symbolism in the illustration. How was King's life and work about hope? What do you see in the illustration that is hopeful? A central guiding star illuminates the entire piece. As St. George slays the dragon on one side and a mother cradles her child on the other, the central image of a mime represents the peak of human performance and statement. A soldier tucked in the crook of the mime's arm represents the reality of ever-present dangers, while the hopeful, life-giving gesture of the mime's hand carries (from left to right) the heroic defense of right over might; the celebration of achievement; learning and literature (woman reading a letter, after Vermeer); and the basic worship of nature and religion.

There's an interesting contrast between King's words (the quotation in the corner of the page in Dream) and the central image of the mime. It's the power of words versus the power of action. Words can change the world, but to do so they must be backed by action. King's words carry an inspirational meaning that echoes to this day. On the other hand, the artistry of the mime rests solely on his ability to communicate not with words, but through actions. Which do you think are most important: words or actions? How can they work together (i.e. one followed by the other)? How important is it to be true to your words, to "walk your talk?"

Find out more about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. through books and the Internet (one of the best websites is The Seattle Times). Click here for a brief biography to get you started.

Illustration by James Bennett

It's clear that the work of Mohandas Gandhi had a profound affect on King's work. This brings us to the Club of Dreamers illustration in Dream. In the context of Dream, a Dreamer is someone who can see beyond "what is" to "what can be," someone who has the creativity and courage to make a difference in their own life, in their community, and in our world. The Club of Dreamers illustration, done by Society of Illustrators Gold Medalist James Bennett, shows some examples of the members of the Club of Dreamers. One of the famous people included is Gandhi.

Find out more about the life of Mohandas Gandhi through books and the Internet. Click here for a brief biography to get you started.

Gandhi's ideas have struck a lasting chord with ordinary people as well as some of the finest minds in the world. Another member of the Club of Dreamers, Albert Einstein, commented that "generations to come will scarcely believe that such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon earth."

What similarities are there between the lives of Gandhi and King? What connections do you see between the words and actions used by both men to encourage change? How do the dreams of both men relate to you and the life you experience today?

Here's a short selection from Gandhi:

"In the application of Satyagraha, I discovered, in the earliest stages, that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of Truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but one's own self."

"Satyagraha and its off-shoots, non-cooperation and civil resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering."

"The movement of nonviolent non-cooperation has nothing in common with the historical struggles for freedom in the West. It is not based on brute force or hatred. It does not aim at destroying the tyrant. It is a movement of self-purification. It therefore seeks to convert the tyrant.... The essence of nonviolent technique is that it seeks to liquidate antagonisms but not the antagonists themselves. In nonviolent fight you have, to a certain measure, to conform to the tradition and conventions of the system you are pitted against. Avoidance of all relationship with the opposing power, therefore, can never be a Satyagrahi's object but transformation or purification of that relationship."

The fundamental tenets of King's philosophy of nonviolence are described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. The six principles include: 1) Nonviolence is not passive, but requires courage; 2) Nonviolence seeks reconciliation, not defeat of an adversary; 3) Nonviolent action is directed at eliminating evil, not destroying an evil-doer; 4) A willingness to accept sacrifice for the cause, if necessary, but never to inflict it; 5) A rejection of hatred, animosity or violence of the spirit, as well as refusal to commit physical violence; and 6) Faith that justice will prevail.

How do Gandhi's ideas compare to King's? Where does King seem to follow Gandhi's teachings, and where does he differ? For example, they seem to agree that nonviolence succeeds by transforming the relationship between antagonists and that its strength lies in the individual's commitment to truth and justice. Yet Gandhi seems to emphasize a need for personal suffering in the practice of nonviolence, a position that is somewhat less militant than King's call to self-sacrifice. And there is a similar difference between Gandhi's belief that nonviolence achieves its goals through patience and non-cooperation and King's belief that it takes "creative tension" and a degree of confrontation to accomplish change. Each offers a slightly different vision of the practice of nonviolence, one rooted in opposition, the other in protest.

Make bubble drawings on two sheets of paper. On the first sheet of paper, draw a bubble in the center with King's name written inside. On the second sheet, draw a bubble with Gandhi's name written inside. As you explore the two leaders, write words and phrases you associate with each man in bubbles around the center bubble. How are the two men the same? Different?

Based on King's work, The King Center has outlined six steps to nonviolent social change: 1) Information gathering and research to get the facts straight;
2) Education of adversaries and the public about the facts of the dispute; 3) Personal commitment to nonviolent attitudes and action; 4) Negotiation with adversary in a spirit of goodwill to correct injustice;
5) Nonviolent direct action, such as marches, boycotts, mass demonstrations, picketing, sit-ins etc., to help persuade or compel adversary to work toward dispute-resolution; 6) Reconciliation of adversaries in a win-win outcome in establishing a sense of community.

What would you like to change in the world? What can you do as an individual? What can you do as part of your community? How could you use the six steps above?

Talk about some of the inequities and injustices that still exist in society today. Are all people truly free and treated equally? Why or why not? For example, how are homeless people treated? What options are they given? Are people still judged based on skin color, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, or gender?

How did the election of Barack Obama as US President offer hope? In what ways has King's dream been realized?

Find out more about the life of Barack Obama through books and the Internet. Click here for a brief biography to get you started.

145 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation effectively ending slavery and four decades after the assassination of King, Obama changed the face of American society – literally.

Says Atlanta, GA Mayor Shirley Franklin, "It's mind-boggling how much this means about the opportunities available to all people – Asians, Latinos, and other people who've historically been locked out of the system."

"Our country is showing its forward evolution," says Corey Booker, the Mayor of Newark, NJ. "That the color of one's skin cannot inhibit one's ability, and that's worthy of celebration."

How did you feel when Obama was elected? What did it mean to you? How do you feel about his Presidency?

Make a third bubble drawing on a sheet of paper for Obama. In a center bubble, write his name. Write words and phrases you associate with Obama in bubbles around the center bubble. Compare Obama's sheet to the ones you created for Gandhi and King. How are the three men similar? Different? How were the achievements of each man affected by the ideas and actions of the people before him?

Finally, the Club of Dreamers illustration in Dream shows only some of the members of the Club of Dreamers. King and Obama are not included. Nominate them to be included in the Club of Dreamers by writing an essay or giving a speech to persuade others that they should be added. How effective can you be in persuading several people that King and Obama are deserving members of the Club of Dreamers? You need specific examples from each man's life of their ideas and actions, you should explain why what each has done merits their inclusion, and you need to find the right words to bring their stories alive – because the most important part of each of their legacies is that we remember what their lives mean in the bigger story of history.

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