'We Could Not Survive If We Could Not Dream'

    The following address was given by the 1999 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship winner, Saya Hillman ë00, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committeeís 19th annual awards banquet on Feb. 9.

ÖWe all know Dr. King had a dream. It first impassioned those in Washington and has since been emitted from the lips of preachers, teachers, students, and community leaders in hopes of a just society. But what is a dream? Is it truly attainable or is it something we only experience in sleep, a fantasy that can never become reality?

    In a world where a Jamaican child considers herself ugly because of her dark skin, where a Chicago child was thrown out of a 14th-story window because he refused to steal candy, and where a Boston child engages in sexual activity at age 12 to raise her self-esteem, our dreams have to be sources of hope.

    We could not survive if we could not dream, for it is our ability to dream that sustains us in the most wretched times. It is the realization of this gift, to see a glimmer of light in a shroud of darkness, to hear laughter amongst crying, to seek good when surrounded by evil that has guided me, a compass of sorts for my spirit. And this consciousness is rooted in last yearís banquet and the subsequent shimmering aftermath.

University President William Leahy, SJ, is flanked by Alvin Barnett (right), winner of this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, and Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of Saint Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago and the featured speaker at the Feb. 9 Martin Luther King Memorial Committee Awards Banquet. University Chaplain Richard Cleary, SJ, also was honored at the event, which was held in Lyons Hall.

People often ask me what it means to be the scholarship recipient, how itís affected my life, and what results from having such a title. I am never quite sure how to respond. I could easily begin talking about the numerous people in the BC community who encircled me with their warm congratulations. My heart never felt so full, my confidence never so high, my soul never so complete.

    I could talk about the wonderful tributes in The Heights, in my hometown newspaper, on my momís answering machine from families I used to baby-sit for, on my voice mail from BC administrators and faculty, in cards from past and present coworkers, and in bear hugs from friends.

    I could talk about my tearing eyes, the droplets of happiness and disbelief, and the incessant smile, signaling my being lost in memories of an enchanted journey.

    I could talk about the marches, the boycotts, the non-violence, the integration, and the scholarshipís namesake himself.

     But what I most want to confer about what this position has meant rests in the midst of a briar patch, among the thorns of streaming emotions and entangled thoughts.

    It is that which is internal, that which is inside me that rings the loudest with the impression this experience has left upon me. To even be considered for an award named after a man of such vision, will, and conviction is an honor in itself. To actually be the recipient is a distinction of such accolade that it compels you to rise above the person you were and to step into the shoes of someone who possesses newfound dedication, motivation, and strength.

    When I struggled to reintegrate into Boston College culture after an emotionally draining service trip to Jamaica, where I became a human jungle-gym for love-hungry children, where I talked to dying AIDS and cancer victims abandoned by their families, and where I listened to teenage mothers discuss the physical and emotional toll of childbirth on their miniature bodies, I remembered this night and Kingís words of hope.

    "If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all."

    And so I continued.

    When I struggled to see my own self-worth and severely questioned the individual who stared back at me in the mirror after a series of heart-wrenching rejections, when I felt as though I was becoming another statistic in the category of young women afflicted with low self-esteem, I remembered this night. And so I continued.

    As I prepare for life post-graduation, as I find myself cemented in the doorway to adulthood, overwhelmed by visions of apartments, bills, employment, and separation from BC, I remember this night and Kingís thoughts on maintaining faith in lifeís course.

    "I donít know what will happen now. Weíve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesnít matter to me now. Because Iíve been to the mountaintopÖAnd Iíve looked over. And Iíve seen the promised land."

    Itís as if King flipped a light switch in my darkened realm of nervousness and uncertainty about the future, and what once was feared is now anticipated. I now recognize that I too have been to the mountaintop. And so I continue.

    All of us tonight, sitting in this institution of higher learning, surrounded by friends, our stomachs filled with food, and our hearts filled with unity, have trekked to the top of the mountain and have seen the beauty. We have seen ourselves laughing at the family dinner table, shopping for a new winter coat, and marching to "Pomp and Circumstance" at high school graduation. We have seen ourselves flying in an airplane, learning to ride a bike, and swimming in the ocean. Yet such entities, things we take for granted and label as simplicities, are witnessed by relatively few.

    We are a privileged people, we who sit here amid song and celebration. By simply being able to read, to surf the ëNet, to drive home to a safe neighborhood, we are dripping with riches in a society that is saturated with deficiencies. Admittedly there have been obstacles in our lives, moments of adversity and struggle - perhaps a death, a sickness, a love not reciprocated, a job not offered, an ominous disagreement. But as we reflect on our own personal moments of difficulty, do they not seem to shrink when cast in the shadows of the poverty, solitude, abuse, and hunger encountered by others?

    The blessings the MLK Scholarship has bestowed upon me, the people, the honors, the emotions, and the conversations have shown me beauty in the midst of ugliness, hope in the midst of anguish, and strength in the midst of weakness. My journey that started a year ago today has taught me the true meaning of the word "faith" and the immense power that exists in its deceivingly short five letters.

    I challenge myself and I challenge all of you to maintain perspective throughout lifeís twists and turns. Perhaps yesterday was not a day you wish to remember. Perhaps today caused you sadness, hurt, or anger. Perhaps tomorrow your heart will break, your eyes will fill, or your spirit will deflate. But if you look at what you have in comparison to what others have not, a place to call home, a person to say "I love you" to, resources to expand knowledge, and a healthy mind and body, appreciation intensifies. Faith, though tested at times, makes us stronger, subsequently strengthening those to whom we offer our hands.

    I challenge myself and I challenge all of you to not only perceive but to act. Can we truly be content to lead our lives, to witness yet do nothing, when the woman across the street appears daily with fresh bruises, when we send our children to private schools because the public ones are so horrific, when we regularly waste food after seeing the emaciated bodies of the starving? We do not have to lead a march or a invoke a boycott. Simply let us alter our lifestyles in a way that will more benefit those whose voices are equally important yet too often silenced.

    Dr. Kingís own words best convey what we must do if we are to ever cease tacking on "but we still have a long way to go" to every step forward. "Weíve got to give ourselves to this struggle to the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this pointÉWeíve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together."

    Like the sun, after every setting, let us rise again.

Return to Feb. 17 menu

Return to Chronicle home page