I Have a Dream – The Man Behind the Famous Speech

We’ve all heard of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  It is one of the most famous American speeches of all time, along with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” speech.    

(c) Dollar Photo Club

(c) Dollar Photo Club

Have you ever thought about the man behind that famous speech? Not the icon, but the man himself? What can we learn from this man and his dream?

A big dream takes persistence when the going gets tough.

In 1964, Robert Penn Warren interviewed Martin Luther King. During that interview, they talked about his philosophy of non-violent protest, the pace of change, and more. Near the end of the interview, Warren asked Dr. King about the stabbing and egging he had received when he went to Harlem. At first he talked almost clinically about the two situations. He stated that people did not understand his message. They were taking out their frustrations towards white people on him.

Then Mr. Warren asked Dr. King how he felt while this was going on. This was his response.

Yes, I remember my feelings very well. I, at, at first this was a very, I guess I had a, a very depressing response because I realized that these were my own people, these were Negroes throwing eggs at me. And I guess you do go through those moments when you begin to think about what you're going through and the sacrifices and suffering that you face as a result of the movement, and yet your own people don't have an understanding and are seeking, not even an appreciation, and seeking to destroy your image at every point.

Like the rest of us, Martin Luther King was human. He hurt. He felt misunderstood. Rejected. He questioned whether or not he was making any impact, any difference at all.

But this is what he said next:

But then it was very interesting. I went right into church and I spoke and I started thinking not so much about myself but about the very people, the society that made people respond like this. It was so interesting how I was able very quickly to get my mind off of myself and feeling sorry for myself and feeling rejected, and I started including them into the orbit of my thinking that it's not enough to condemn them for doing this, this, engaging in this act, but what about the society and what about the conditions that are still alive which made people act like this?

This was Martin Luther King, the man. The man who experienced rejection, violence, and self-doubt. The man who, in the face of those difficulties, reminded himself that he had a burning message and a purpose. The man who loved the people he was trying to reach no matter what they did to him.

Martin Luther King did not live to see his dream fulfilled, or even close to fulfilled. He died trying to make that dream a reality –  not just for him, but for all people who call themselves Americans.

What is your dream? What drives you? Is it something worth battling self-doubt, criticism and rejection for? If not, perhaps your dream is too small. Our dreams should make us uncomfortable; cause us to reach beyond ourselves.

Think about the influence you can have in your own community – your family, your circle of friends, your church, your workplace. Some ideas to fire your imagination:

  • A family that enjoys one another and provides unconditional love and mutual encouragement.
  • A circle of friends who connect at a deep emotional level. A true community of love and support.
  • A life that is vibrant, teeming with energy, joy, and freedom.
  • A workplace where people collaborate to bring the best of what they have to the team. Where the strength of the team far exceeds the sum of individual strengths.
  • A church where people are healed and transformed to new life.

Name Your Dream

  1. Write one phrase or paragraph that completes this thought: I have a dream that ___________________.
  2. Once you decide on your dream, distill it down to one word. One word to declare and live as truth each day. When you say your one word, it will trigger the memory of the dream you have written. Let it percolate through your mind and imagination. Thinking begets emotion, which stirs motivation, and propels action.

Martin Luther King had a dream “that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’… that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.”

I share Dr. King’s dream, for every man, woman, and child who calls this country their home. I have a dream for you too – that you will have a vibrant life of love, joy, and purpose.


Question: What is your dream, and what one word can you use to express it? To join the conversation, click here.

Options for Deeper Engagement

1. Read the entire I Have a Dream speech.

2. Read some interviews with Martin Luther King to better understand the man behind the speech. He had the same fears as we do. His sense of purpose was stronger than his fears and doubts.

3. Write an “I Have a Dream” speech of your own. How does this dream look, smell, taste, feel?  How will it leave the world a better place?

4. Evaluate your present life and the choices you make against that dream. What will it take to realize your dream? What is the first thing you can do to move you closer? You don’t have to have an entire plan. Just the first action, and then the next. Your dream and your plan are likely to evolve, so don’t waste time trying to come up with something complicated.

5. Start. The first step is the hardest. Just start.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ingrid Lochamire

    Thank you for this inspirational post. I’ve been contemplating my own dream lately in this shift of personal seasons. I like your challenging statement: “Our dreams should make us uncomfortable; cause us to reach beyond ourselves.” I plan to explore your site and delighted to have found you through Michael Hyatt.

    • Hi Ingrid,
      I’m so glad this post was challenging to you. Thanks so much for starting the discussion. How do you feel about your shift of personal seasons?