Monday, January 20, 1997
King speech reverberates
across years


BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The interoffice memo was printed on pink paper.

It began:

''I have a dream.''

No one missed that memo Friday.

It was on every desk when the 75 workers at Queen City Metro's downtown office came to work.

The memo contained the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 ''I Have a Dream'' speech.

That piece of pink paper vividly explained why today - the official observation of what would have been the Rev. Dr. King's 68th birthday - is a national holiday. For all Americans.

This year, the speech turns 34. That's the same age the Rev. Dr. King was when he spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

As the Metro workers started their day, they read his speech. Some saw it as they sipped their first morning cup of coffee. Others read it next to their computer or between phone calls. Each saw something different in his age-old wish for freedom.

Rosalind Simpson, the bus company's health benefits specialist, looked at the memo and saw a mountain of hope.

Vaughn Davis, Metro's human-resources director, saw America standing at a crossroads with still enough time to make the right turn.

Administrative assistant Ruby Lim Quee You, a native of Jamaica, saw universal truths in this American message.

Barb Johnson saw her granddaughter in these words:

''I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.''

The speech is taped to the wall of Barb's cubicle. It's above quotes from the Bible on 3x5 cards and one of her own sayings: The heart is the spirit of the soul.

Barb's a Metro travel agent. For 20 years, she's been answering the phone and helping people catch their bus.

In the voice that has launched 10,000 trips, she says she's never seen the speech in print, ''never been able to hold it in my hands.''

As she read it between riders' calls, she thought of her granddaughter. If that little girl could grow up in a land where character overshadows color, ''this would be a nation of love.''

Placing her hands over her heart, she says, ''sure, it was a speech about civil rights. But it was also a statement of love. For everyone to be treated equally, we must have love in our hearts.''

More to do

The speech made everyone think of how far we've come, how much farther we need to go and how the Rev. Dr. King can inspire us to get there.

Vaughn Davis remembers, ''Sunday used to be the most segregated day in America. Now, I go to a church that's 50-50 black and white. That's because of Dr. King's speech. It was a prophet's call to action.''

Donna Hamilton, a secretary, says her 5-year-old daughter ''wants nothing but black baby dolls. She does n't see the difference that she's white and they're not. To her, they're just little babies. Skin color doesn't matter.''

Rosalind Simpson says ''We need to follow Dr. King's non-violent ways. There's too much bitterness and hate.''

To make these changes, she says, ''just read his speech. Its impact shows how one person can make a difference.''

Take a memo

Sallie Hilvers was that one person at Metro. It was her idea to hand out copies of the speech.

She did it - not in her role as the bus company's public information officer - but as a mom.

She recently read Uncle Tom's Cabin and tried - ''through tears'' - to imagine ''what it would be like to be a slave and have my young son taken from me.'' She started reading about the civil rights movement. And, this led her to the Rev. Dr. King's speech.

''I soon realized there were many ways to keep his dream alive.''

You can even do it at work, in a memo.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.