A Dream Deferred

Harlem by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore?
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over?
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Roasted breadfruit
Roasted breadfruit

During the period Langston Hughes wrote this poem, World War II had just ended, it was about 100 years since the end of the civil war in the U.S. and blacks had hoped for equal participatory citizenship. But America was moving “with all deliberate haste” to level the playing field for blacks, and so blacks remained disenfranchised. In 1951, given the slow or no progress for blacks, broken promises, and fear on both sides, he penned the poem Harlem to graphically and vividly share his story. This poem, in its simple rhythm, meter, and imagery, provided us a glimpse into his philosophical viewpoint and how he saw the world at that moment.

Bats rock beach 2

The central question Langston asks is, “What happens to a dream deferred”? I imagine that each of us might have our answers to that question. On a recent trip to Barbados, I visited Bats Rock Beach, a beautiful little beach with no frills and a mixture of the swimming area, a little surfing, and rocks. But there were also several unfinished structures around the beach area. Some private houses were started long ago and not finished, and then there was a large resort that never got finished and remained in that state of disrepair and abandonment for several years.

After contemplating these structures, my thoughts turned to the many stories I heard from Barbadians who postponed going home and never made it back, and some worked very hard to build a beautiful house, retired, and died days before going home. I think of my own family, how I deferred taking my children back to their ancestral roots when they were young, and how I allowed 17 years to pass without taking Serena and Nivan home. Serena never saw Barbados before she died. I have had the opportunity to take Nivan later in life and Lauren for her sixteenth birthday. Some redemption.

Langston did not answer the question but asked a series of follow on questions. Though we got a glimpse of his view of the world, we don’t know where he landed.

So what happens to a dream deferred?

Like Langston, I am not sure.

Stan Brooks, PhD

By Stan Brooks, PhD

Dr. S. MacNivan Brooks is an Intergroup Leadership Coach, Motivational Speaker, and Author.

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