People At Heart Of March For Dreams

Fifty years ago, my childhood buddies and I would pluck dandelions from the green grass, hold them close to our lips and blow.

As the white puffs sailed into the wind, we'd make a wish.

We were all colored boys and I don't recall the things we wished for, but it was surely simple, childhood things. We certainly were oblivious to the things going on in the world then, and in our own country. But the seeds — the wishes, the hopes and dreams sailed on nonetheless.

The other day, the youngest of my four daughters plucked several dandelions from the green grass and said, "Here, daddy."

I placed it close to my lips and made a wish.

As the seeds sailed into the breeze, she asked, in her 3-going-on-4 voice: "What did you wish for, daddy?"

"World peace," I said.

I did wish for world peace. But I said it jokingly. It was kind of a joke. World peace. In light of the latest reports of nerve gas being used against civilians in Syria, the unrest in Egypt and the continuing war in Afghanistan, well, it does seem a joke. Wishful thinking. I can't think of a time when the world has ever been collectively at peace. And in America, with the daily reports of violence in the news, national peace is relative.

Fifty years ago, when the March on Washington took place, there was no world peace and not much national peace, either.

What came out of that march of 250,000 people was the voice and presence of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his "I Have a Dream" speech. It became the signature, defining moment of that long, hot August day in the nation's capital, though as one regional planner of the event pointed out, it was the event itself that was the most remarkable part of that day and it doesn't get enough attention.

Errol Alexander, 72, who now lives outside Seattle, Wash., said it is "disconcerting" to have King's vision pushed, but not the event itself.

"King gave a great speech," said Alexander in a recent phone conversation, "but somehow I don't want us to not realize it was hard work. It was the energy of the people that made the event."

Alexander, who said he once served as chairman on the board of the Greater Hartford Urban League, noted they figured on 70,000 to 80,000 people and ended up with a quarter of a million — and not one arrest.

Others around the world have tried to duplicate the March on Washington, he said, citing Tiananmen Square. The lesson learned, he said, is that much can be accomplished when people of good will come together.

Still, a lot of blood would be shed and lives lost in the 50 years after, including 18 days later with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four little girls.

Marches and demonstrations have occurred worldwide for various events over the years. The expression of protest, the reaffirmation of rights, the willingness to come together in the face of unblinking force may seem symbolic and trite in today's world, but it was and can be a truly heroic step for change.

There is something about coming together for change. Anyone who has ever stood together for change, marched together for change, shouted together for change can feel the pulse of oneness, the energy. It is that pulse that Alexander speaks of when asking today's world to remember the people who came that day and marched for change.

Fifty years later, the change has not been perfect.

Yet, I know I owe whatever success I have not just to my own hard work and my parents' push for achievement, but to those who marched in Washington that day and the days before and after.

They made possible the wishes, hopes and dreams of those who blow dandelions into the wind.

Frank Harris III of Hamden is a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at

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