What Dreams May Come: Joseph, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Young People

February 1st, 2017

Throughout my childhood, I had a vivid imagination and dream life.

Like most kids, I developed the ability to have rich dreams that became increasingly complex. Thankfully, as these dreams increased in their complexity, rarely did they result in nightmares or night terrors. It wasn’t until my late teens that I realized how my subconscious mind through my dreams would solve problems I was presently faced with. If I were wrestling with a decision, it seemed that through an intense dream I’d receive the clarity I needed to make a choice. As a result, I’ve found that when faced with a personal or professional challenge — after sorting through the facts — more often than not, if I give my body and mind permission to rest, the solution will rise to my conscious mind. But, two years ago I stopped dreaming. Actually, I stopped recalling my dreams. Gone were the brilliant colors and picturesque scenes. Instead, I’d awake from hazy images of gray that I could not comprehend. My wild dreams that once served as a welcomed respite were no longer accessible.

Psychologists note that dreams may be repressed due to trauma, stress, or anxiety. And, it seems the sudden loss of my father was the trauma that resulted in my inability to recall my dreams. My bold imagination had shifted dramatically. In truth, trauma may impact our psyche to the extent we experience heightened anxiety, increased irritability, lethargy, or emotional detachment. It can result in weight loss or gain or an increased vulnerability to fear. Trauma is real and its impacts cannot be underestimated. Then, we are challenged to consider how we promote national healing, racial reconciliation, and congregational health in trauma-filled communities. Trauma-informed communities — a designation slowly gaining credence among trauma experts —  categorizes these communities as having high crime rates and bereft of resources. As a result of deindustrialization, high local unemployment, and political disenfranchisement, the landscape decays making life appear lackluster. The sight of trash-scattered sidewalks and abandoned buildings clouds the senses to the possibilities alive around residents. Indeed, dreams may be deferred because of personal, professional, or communal trauma.

However, the biblical account of the character Joseph provides comfort for those who have lost the ability to dream or recall their dreams due to trauma.

In the story, God dreams a dream in the young man living within a context that is not conducive for dream growth. He’s favored by his father and hated by his brothers. Tested in a context with an uneasy admixture of love and hate, he’s affirmed by the one from whom he came but rejected by his kin. Joseph is favored and hated. But, what God dreams through the favored-hated one is reason enough for us to celebrate. In his dream life, he sees himself in a better state of being in comparison to his brothers and parents. Sadly, disgusted and intimidated by the possibility of the reality of his dream, his brothers hate and conspire against him as his father deflates his dreams of grandeur. That God would dream not one, but two dreams in a community that is unable to steward dream development puzzles me. Even more, that God would reveal divine plans in a climate where love and hate coexist, admittedly, causes me to question God’s methodologies.

What is it about the soil of love and hate that serve as good ground for dream planting?

With that, why would vivid imaginations and complex dreams arise within the company of dream snatchers?

I contend, dream snatchers are people who seek to undervalue the dreams of another person because of their own feelings of insecurity and fear. They are those who dismiss and crush God’s dream through someone else. Indeed, Joseph’s family were dream snatchers.

The iconic “I Have a Dream” Speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is both poetic and prophetic. Speaking poignantly to the injustices of his day, he grappled with the reality of the Emancipation Proclamation but the contradicting reality of the continued captivity of African-Americans as a result of segregation and discrimination. While the Declaration of Independence guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it seemed this was only extended to people who were not of the African diaspora. It was in the soil of love and hate that God dreamed this dream in Rev. Dr. King Jr. In other words, while the white majority loved how black mothers and grandmothers cared for their children, cleaned their homes, cooked their meal, and washed their clothes — nonetheless, they hated their black skin. The soul in their voice and rhythm in their hips was welcomed entertainment, but the rich texture of black hair and resilience in their eyes was something to tame.

Because the soil is still fertile with love and hate, oppression and injustice, God still dreams.

Though we live in a present nightmare where Geroge Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, and there were non-indictments in the deaths of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, we continue to believe the dream God is dreaming in us. The nightmare began when our ancestors were stripped of their African garments, loaded on ships and packaged like sardines. The nightmare continued as those who survived the voyage across the Atlantic were sold as beasts on auction blocks. White supremacist ideologies want us to forget the atrocities of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. They want us to forget that we are haunted by the ghosts of cotton fields, slave quarters and lynchings. Sadly, this was no dream. Antagonists want us to forget those who were whipped, amputated, boiled in oil, separated and sold across the country. It’s prevailing principalities and powers that tell us to get over these injustices and atrocities. Get over Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Amadu Diallo, Mike Brown, and Sandra Bell, they contend.

No! We can’t just get over these or any other lives stripped from our communities.

For, these lives are buried in the soil of love and hate that give rise to our dreams of equality. Just like Joseph’s brothers who became intimidated by his dream, so has America become fearful of our rallying cry that “Black Lives Matter.” Met with the rebuttal that all lives matter we’ve had to contend with modern-day dream snatchers. As an African-American community, we’ve had to steady ourselves in the face of well-intentioned but ignorant people. Yes, all lives do matter, and are create in the image and likeness of God. All lives matter — black, white, Hispanic and Haitian; married, single, divorced, separated; heterosexual and homosexual; republican and democratic lives all matter. Nonetheless, when we cry “Black Lives Matter” it’s not to subjugate any other race, but a reminder to oppressive systems that even if they don’t recognize God’s glory upon us, we do. It’s a reminder to the world that we’re fearfully and wonderfully made.

As Dr. King shared in this letter from the Birmingham jail,

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

The rallying cry that black lives matter indicates the cup of our endurance has run over and God is dreaming a dream through young people for this present age.

The God-given dream through Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the same dream given to the world today.

He or she who has an ear, let them hear what the spirit is saying. For the spirit speaks and dreams of a prison system that does more to rehabilitate inmates than use inmates as cheap labor. The spirit dreams through us of the deconstruction of institutionally oppressive systems that promote social, economic, housing and environmental inequities.

As Rev. King said,

“It is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntary give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”

Therefore, those living and working in the legacy and spirit of Rev. King must continue to dream and advocate for rights actions and outcomes concerning all citizens.

This is the dream God continues to dream through us.


Dawrell Rich is an author, pastor and public speaker. He is also the founder of Joshua’s House—a youth and young adult leadership organization that focuses on mentoring, community service, health & wellness and education. WWW.DAWRELLRICH.COM Twitter: @DAWRELLRICH FB: DAWRELLGRICH


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