Originally delivered from 6 pages of text over 60 years ago, running 17 minutes long and comprised of only 1,667 words, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech had the power to move a nation.

That text and those words were delivered again by 11-year old Ayala McMillen as part of Wisconsin’s 43rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute and Ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda on January 15, 2024.  The theme for this year’s celebration was “One Day.”

Ayala is a 5th grader at Sandburg Elementary School in Madison, a place she eagerly describes as “an amazing school.  It’s just great!”  That enthusiasm and appreciation for opportunities and making a difference spills over into her young dream for a meaningful life. 

UMOJA had a chance to speak with Ayala as she was preparing for her performance. 

UMOJA:  Being asked to share Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech with the entire State is quite an experience and honor.  Do you remember when you first learned about the speech?

Ayala:  “I don’t remember the first time I heard it, but I remember hearing it once, and then reading the book about it.”   

UMOJA:  When you heard the speech and learned more about it, how did it make you feel?

Ayala: “When I first heard it, I was like: “Why is America’s past so messed up?  Why is everything so dark?”

UMOJA:  Yes, it was and is a very important speech that still sheds light on our history and lives.  Now that you understand it a little more deeply, how are you preparing for your performance at the Capitol?

Ayala:  “I am practicing at home.  Every time I come home from school, I unpack, unwind and then get my phone out to start reading it.  I have practiced in front of my little brother, my dad and a few neighbors.”

UMOJA:  What do you feel or think about when you’re reciting it?

Ayala:  “When I read it, I think about adding power.  My dad told me to make this speech my own, as if I wrote it myself. So I started putting more power into parts when I was reading the speech.”

“The surprising part for me was when I put power into the “Let Freedom Ring…” and “I Have a Dream Today…” parts.  I realized that when I put my own power into it, I was actually shouting it!  Now, we have neighbors in our building, so I was like “I’ve got to tone this down a bit!”

UMOJA:  We could really feel that power during your presentation at the MLK Tribute and Ceremony!  How did it feel to be up on the stage in front of everyone? 

Ayala:  “It felt great!  It was my first time at the Capitol and I thought it was cool.  I was surprised about how many people applauded.”  

Applause was not the only thing that surprised Ayala.  Many in the audience reached out to express their appreciation, including a State Capitol Police Officer who introduced her around, and Wisconsin State Representative Sheila Stubbs who congratulated her and promised to give her a personal tour of the Capitol.

UMOJA:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with UMOJA readers about yourself, the speech or this opportunity?

Ayala:  “I’d like to say that if you have a dream to do anything – write a speech, write a book, become a police officer, or be whomever – as long as you’re doing it for good, you’re helping people.  You can *be* that good person.”

“And, if you get any chance to show out and show up with people, I say “Take it!”  You never know what might happen!”  

Ten fascinating facts about the “I Have A Dream” speech

Originally posted on August 28, 2023 by National Constitution Center Staff

It was on this day in 1963 that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech as part of the March on Washington.  So how much do you know about the speech and the events that led up to it?

The speech was delivered to an estimated 250,000 people who came to Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963 to march for civil rights.

Here are 10 facts about the march and the events that led to the speech.

  1. The official event was called the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made a nationally televised address calling for a drive for more civil rights. That same night, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi.
  2. Marches had been proposed before the Kennedy speech and Evers’ killing, but the events forced the issue. Kennedy met with civil rights leaders such as King, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and student leader John Lewis about a proposed march. Kennedy signaled his approval publicly in July when he was assured it would be a peaceful event.
  3. The March was not universally supported by activists. Prominent objectors included Malcolm X and Strom Thurmond. The organizers didn’t agree on all the issues, either, but they did agree that people should march together at the event.
  4. It also wasn’t the first threatened March on Washington by civil rights leaders. In 1941, organizers were planning a march to demand desegregation in the U.S. military as World War II approached. But President Franklin Roosevelt averted the march by signing Executive Order 8802 in June, 1941, banning discrimination in the federal government and defense industries.
  5. Almost no one could clearly hear King’s speech. An expensive sound system was installed for the event, but it was sabotaged right before it. Attorney General Robert Kennedy enlisted the Army Corps of Engineers to fix the system.
  6. William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois, the co-founder of the NAACP, died on the day before the event at the age of 95 in Ghana. Roy Wilkins asked the marchers to honor Du Bois with a moment of silence.
  7. An estimated 250,000 people attended the March. People came from all over the country, and few arrests were reported.
  8. There were 10 speakers on the official program for the public event at the Lincoln Memorial: All of them were men. Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke right before King.  There were no speakers after King, as organizers led the audience in a pledge and gave a benediction.
  9. King almost didn’t give the “I Have a Dream” part of the “I Have A Dream” speech. Singer Mahalia Jackson urged King to tell the audience “about the dream,” and King went into an improvised section of the speech.
  10. The person who wound up with the typewritten speech given by King is retired college basketball coach George Raveling. A college basketball player at Villanova, organizers saw Raveling in the crowd and asked him to be a bodyguard on stage. He stood next to King on stage, and decided to ask him for the paper copy of the speech. King obliged and Raveling has the speech locked away in a safe place, with no intention of selling it.

For a link to the Full Speech from the National Archives, go to http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf 

Source:  The National Constitution Center blogpost https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/10-fascinating-facts-about-the-i-have-a-dream-speech