December 15th 2021
To go on an UrbanTrekkers trip usually implies going camping, hiking, paddling, or some other form of outdoor enjoyment. You might imagine yourself on a beach, a mountainside, or even down a rushing river. However some of our treks leave you in an entirely different scene: a crowded city made of marbles, pillars, towering monuments. It was amongst these landmarks that we trekked with our 11th grade class on our Washington DC trip this year.
It is easy to feel dwarfed by size and grandeur in Washington DC. One of the very first monuments that we walked past was the Washington Monument, a 555-foot-tall obelisk-like structure. This monument’s construction spanned almost 40 years of American history in its construction alone.
It was 26 years after the spire was built that another location that our students visited was beginning its own construction. It was built across the large rectangular Reflecting Pool from the Washington Monument and was dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial gives the aura of an ancient temple with a height of 99 feet supported by giant pillars of marble. Inside the tall roof of the building there sits white marble Abraham Lincoln. If this stone statue were ever to move, it would stand 28 feet tall at full height, but for now it sits looking out over the reflecting pool and to the east. In its many years of sitting, the stone-faced Lincoln would have seen a crowd of people gather just in front of his doorstep. It might have sat in silent questioning as it saw a solitary figure climb the steps and turn to face the thousands and speak about a dream he had for the American people and its unity. This was August 28, 1963 and that man was Martin Luther King Jr.
Our students stood upon that very spot where Martin Luther King stood as he made that speech, seeing the vast expanse of the city that he must have seen 58 years ago. The spot is marked by a simple engraving in the stone, an easily missed text for such a significant moment of American history. The text simply says:
I Have A Dream
Martin Luther King Jr.
The March on Washington
For Jobs and Freedom
King is an icon to many people in the United States and this is no more true than in Camden County, NJ. Many of the students see his face on street art, picture frames, statues, and elsewhere. It was in Camden that Martin Luther King Jr. lived during his early years (1949-1951) whilst in seminary. It was in Camden County that he had his first sit-in in 1951. Some who live in Camden today might wonder what differences there were between Camden of King and Camden today.
One student stopped and knelt down on the spot Dr. King stood, where he shared the words “I Have A Dream”. My student looked up and said, “Dr. King’s hopes are still a dream, the work is not finished.” So as we look to the end of this year and the start of a new one, let us carry the words of this student: “The work is not finished.”