I was a 17-year-old self-proclaimed “jock” from suburban New Jersey when a friend asked me to join her synagogue on a civil-rights march in Washington. With parental support, I ventured forth.
Our bus arrived early, so I walked the reflecting pool to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I witnessed the preparations and eventually the speakers and singers, and ultimately saw the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver the “I have a Dream” speech.
Separated from my group and hemmed into place by the crowd on the steps, I knew my life would be forever changed. I hadn’t bargained for transformation in its very essence.
As King spoke, I turned away to the watch the sea of people spreading across the mall and beyond, and I fixated on a man in a black suit, black tie and hat with a sign that I believe said “We Shall Overcome.”
My lasting impression was that this man and others dressed in their elegant best, with tears streaming down their faces, smiling and saying “amen” after each phrase. I knew at that moment that my life’s work would be for the sake of service to a dream of a better world.
CRAIG NEAL, Minneapolis
The writer is cofounder of Heartland Inc., a social enterprise organization, and is a former publisher of Utne Reader magazine.