In this post, Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith writes about how he put together a service for Martin Luther King Sunday that explored the dreams of undocumented immigrant youth and connected them with the dream of Dr. King. Perhaps you might consider doing something similar in your own community.– ed.
This time last year, I wondered what to do about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday worship service. Naturally, I was thinking about his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. At the same time, I was among the many immigrant advocates hoping for the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth and young adults brought to the United States by their parents as minors. Then it came to me: What about doing a service that would bring together Dr. King’s Dream and the dreams of the Dreamers? The idea for the service, “Dreamers and the Dream” was born. The title comes from the song “Here’s to Life”. The version of it I know and love best is sung by the late Shirley Horn:
Here’s to life / and the joy it brings
Here’s to life / to dreamers and their dreams
In order for the service to fulfill its potential, however, it was important to include the voices of the youth who would be directly affected by the DREAM act. I knew just who to call for help: Walter Tejada, a long-time friend of our congregation and a long-time member of the Arlington County Board who immigrated as a youngster from El Salvador. Walter put me in touch with Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez, a member of the Arlington County School Board and the founder of the Dream Project, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities and support for gifted, economically-challenged immigrant students in their pursuit of higher education. Dr. Violand-Sanchez, a native of Bolivia herself, was delighted for the Dreamers to be part of the service, and arranged for two of them to speak at each of our two Sunday services. They were terrifically inspiring! It was the first time, in fact, that some had spoken publicly about their lives as American young people without citizenship status.
Since then, we have worked on several projects and presentations together. We are now looking for opportunities to connect the congregation’s youth with the youth of the Dream Project. Even though the DREAM Act did not pass the House of Representatives, we continue to build relationships and identify the places where UU values and those of the Dreamers intersect.
Lessons Learned from putting together the service:
- Help may be closer than you think. With one phone call to someone who was already in our community, we were able to make our first contact with the Dream Project.
- Affirmation from a congregation is powerful. Given the warm reception they received at UUCA, the Dreamers were encouraged enough to organize an advocacy event at a local high school with the theme “Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic”.
- Connections take on a life of their own. A member of the congregation at the Martin Luther King service invited one of the Dreamers to speak at a conference on immigration in Florida. The attendees were so inspired that they raised $1000 in scholarship money for that Dreamer … How cool is that?
Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith is a Team Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA. Throughout 2010-2011, much of his attention is going toward the congregational/denominational focus on justice for immigrants and their families.