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King's message is suppressed by urban disorder

I stand in front of a run-down apartment in a housing project, with a baby in my arms and one at my feet. A few apartments down I see the baby's mother pursuing one of the crack dealers of the neighborhood. Her frail body seems to quiver with the strain of her desperation to satisfy the taste for poison ecstasy. In the distance, I hear a gunshot and wonder if it is the sound of someone's death blood. But I am comforted with the thought of the time. My favorite soap opera soon will be on and I can find escape within the sordid immoral lives of white folks.

I see a stranger approaching. I strain to recognize his poised frame and pensive features. As he draws near, I clearly see the same face that hangs in a picture on my wall. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is it really you? He nods his head in acknowledgement and speaks to me in a tender voice, observing my circumstance.

"Sister, I had hoped for better things for you today. I had dreamed of finding your children at least in a place of dignity and hope. I supposed your husband would be here by your side providing the strength so that the family together would abide. Speak to me, sister," he said in a pleading tone. "Say to me what is in your heart."

At first my shame rose up and I was speechless. Then my thoughts were filled with a rage I knew I must subdue. Finally, the hopelessness that usually was in my heart returned, and I spoke softly to the vision before me.

"What I have to say may not be very important, but I do believe if anyone would listen, it would be you. When I was a child my mother would pray. I learned that prayer was important. But then they said I could not pray, so I gave it up. I used to walk to school every day, and the teachers were friends and neighbors. My children had to ride a bus to school and spent the day with strangers far away. I don't know what happened to them during the long day. My parents worked hard together and, although we didn't have much, we had each other. My husband left me long ago, but visits on occasion. That way I get my check each month replacing his care with welfare. You see, the government became my husband, the provider, the father of my children and dictator of my life. It hates me for my weakness, the weakness that it creates. Dr. King, I wish you had stayed with us longer. Perhaps we would not have gotten so lost. Those that move up forget those left behind. Children use guns to replace the protection of a father. Drugs and money are their god, and death its ultimate service. Still, white folks call us "nigger" and will not let us in.

"Dr. King, I would ask you this from the bottom of my heart. Please tell us, is there hope for people like us? Has God truly deserted us or can we still be free? Can our children be saved in love and purity?"

As he started to speak, the sound of sirens suddenly awakened me from my sleep.

It was a dream, I realized, the tears still warm on my cheeks, the questions still in my heart. It was just a dream.

Alfreda Brown is a homemaker. She lives in St. Petersburg.