Living the dream today

  • Published
  • By Col. Jimmy McMillian
  • 91st Security Force Group commander
It is not my intent to recite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s entire biography. I will not give you a guilt trip about the sins of our ancestors, and I will not pretend we have achieved the vision of Dr. King. While I would agree we as a nation have made tremendous strides in race relations, there is still much more we can do to fulfill the legacy of Dr. King. I will not recite the "I had a dream" speech, although I believe it is relevant today.

If I were charged with giving the holiday celebrated this year on Jan. 19 a theme it would be "Living the dream today." Some may believe the dream has been fulfilled, others may believe the dream will never be realized. Whatever your position, we should all share one common theme, and that is, to live the dream. This requires a sincere collective effort to always do what is right for mankind, not self.

Here's what I think it means to "live the dream."

In 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated I was about nine and half years old. I vividly recall watching the funeral on the 15-inch black and white television in our home. All the adults in my household were filled with emotions. I listened to Dr. King's speeches on the radio, but I did not realize how much he had changed the course of history until after his death. I then set out to learn as much as I could about this man, because his unique oratory skills motivated me to change my outlook on life.

Often, people are products of non-productive environments, seeming to endure disappointment after disappointment. They walk around wondering if life will ever be kind to them. Then doubt begins to control their thoughts, and there is a natural tendency to give-up, give-in and quit.

Living the dream does not give you the option to quit. When you consider what Dr. King endured, quitting does not allow you to assume responsibility for your own freedoms; giving up robs you of your future and it denies freedom to the neighborhoods and nation in which we live.

Dr. King's life should give each of us courage to do what is right, the strength to overcome life's obstacles, and the energy to initiate new beginnings. No one ever promised a life without pain or sorrow, but there is always hope in the mist of chaos.

When you are suffering from failures or denied opportunities, there are two ways you can respond to your situation. One is to react with bitterness and blame everyone. The other is to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided long ago to follow the latter course, because when situations knock me on my back, I'm reminded of a quote from abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass which says, "If you can look up, you can get up."

Another aspect of living the dream means you must give back. We all must make a commitment to the African proverb, "each one, teach one." I challenge you to mentor someone who does not look like you, spend some time mentoring or tutoring young people who are from dysfunctional homes or situations. I guarantee you there are people in our mist who need a positive role model they can dialogue with on a regular basis regardless of age/experience, social status. Living the dream requires us to seek those people out.

Living the dream means working to understand and appreciate the differences in others. I have decided that understanding another person is one of the most difficult things for man to do. Understanding another human demands a degree of energy most of us cannot muster. Trying to understand someone requires you to approach the table of brotherhood devoid of all pre-conceived notions and ideas about that person. We have to strip ourselves of the media's depiction of another race, look for the positive in people, and judge them by their actions and morality, not the color of their skin. You have achieved some understanding of another being when you don't undermine your worth by comparing yourself with others. It is because we are different that each of us is special.

Living the dream means individuals must rise above the "narrow concepts of individualized concerns, to the broader concerns of humanity." If we all make a sincere effort to work harder every month in our communities to combat prejudices and discriminations it will give us the opportunity to make a significant difference in the world. The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, forced us to hold hands and mourn as one nation. To me, this proves you cannot make someone love you, but we all can be someone to be loved.

Living the dream also suggests you must see yourself at the head and never at the tail. Some people will always want you to feel inferior and come in last place. Your focus must remain on bettering yourself, because a man's capacity to better himself provides inspiration and confidence in the future of the human race. When the human race is on the same accord, then all people benefit from the abundance of our great nation.

I challenge you to live the dream each day as though it is your last day. Remember, yesterday is history, let's not forget it, but don't be shackled by it. Tomorrow is a mystery, therefore prepare for it but don't worry about the trials it will bring. And today is a gift; that's why we call it the present -- enjoy it in appreciation of each other.

Editor's Note:
This commentary was written in 2004 when now Brig. Gen. Jimmy McMillian, HQ USAF/A7S, was the Security Forces Group commander at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The general is presently at Malmstrom visiting with the security forces personnel through Saturday. The words he wrote then still have great relevance today.