School bells rang out again across the Yukon this past week.
From a block and a half away, despite all the other downtown noise, my open window brought in the sounds of joyful exuberance from the Whitehorse Elementary playground.
Clearly the end of vacation didn’t put a damper on fun.
The return to the classroom marks a time of expectation. With every new school year, the world opens wide again before our youth.
Hopefully their teachers, pages of their books and screens of their computers will fill young dreams with multicoloured images of a tomorrow filled with adventure and possibility.
We know that all too often though, poverty and prejudice can greatly dim a child’s visions of the future.
Ever looming images of war, starvation or environmental collapse can weary even the most ardent optimist among us, young or old. Still at this time of year, we begin again.
Keeping dreams alive means working in any way we can to overcome the barriers that limit people’s potential.
In the high school I went to many years ago, tuition and a stiff entrance examination almost predetermined who could occupy a desk.
The faces around me were overwhelmingly middle class or above. Only one Afro-American student made it in despite the fact that this community represented a third of my hometown’s population.
The Civil Rights movement inspired a change in administration attitudes. The call went out for students interested in tutoring Grade 8 Afro-American students who had expressed an interest in coming to our school.
I recall spending a good number of Saturday mornings prepping one young fellow for the entrance exam.
The complexion of our school did change. Voices like that of Martin Luther King Jr. pushed, prodded and inspired that progress. Last Tuesday marked the 44th anniversary of this Nobel Peace Prize winning Baptist preacher’s I have a dream speech (www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlk).
Rev. King gave it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC in front of 200,000 civil rights supporters.
King used this occasion to recall President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation a century earlier.
“This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”
But the reality was that “One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
Yet Rev. King could say, “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”
His dream saw “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
In a ceremony in London, England on Wednesday a 2.7-metre bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled. Close to Westminster Abbey it looks towards Britain’s Parliament Building. Calling the statue “a beacon of hope” the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Mandela inspires us as “the man who no prison cell, no intimidation, no violence, no show trial, no threat of execution could ever silence.”
King, Mandela and our children call us to keep the dream of a better world alive. We do this by working in whatever way we can to build a just, sustainable and caring society. We must have this dream.
The annual Labour Picnic in the Park will be held this coming Monday, September 3rd. The Yukon Employees Union, Local Y010 and the Public Service Alliance of Canada particularly welcome the unemployed for hamburgers, hot dogs and corn on the cob from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Rotary Peace Park.
A World Religions Conference sponsored by Ahmadiyya Muslim In Islam Canada will be held at the Yukon Arts Centre on Thursday, September 6th from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. For more information and RSVP call 1-877-767-1965.
Michael Dougherty is co-