Oct. 6, 2015

A dream today

By Bill Cirone

As millions of schoolchildren across the U.S. were preparing to head back to school in late August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

He told those who had assembled there about his dream.

A year later, at the age of 35, King became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

King’s oratory and vision transformed a nation.

On Sept. 26, 2015, over 60,000 people gathered in New York’s Central Park to hear about another dream from another visionary: 18 year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai.

“I have a very small kind of dream,” Malala, in her characteristic humility, told those gathered in the park, and millions of others watching the event live on their televisions and computers. “That is to see the world a happier place. A place where every child can have the right to go to school.

“Where every child and every person has the freedom to live a happy life. To live a peaceful life. To live in safety.

“That is my dream.”

That Malala is even alive to articulate this dream is nothing short of miraculous. By now, her story is well chronicled: as an adolescent in Pakistan she advocated for the rights of young girls to receive an education. That message outraged local Taliban members. One day, a gunman boarded the bus Malala was riding and shot her in the head at point blank range.

Amazingly, Malala survived the brutal ambush, and in time the reach of her message became wider than her thuggish Taliban tormentors could have ever imagined. In 2014, just two years after the brutal attack, Malala became the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The recognition came exactly 50 years after King had been similarly honored.

Instead of silencing her, her would-be murderers amplified her.

On Oct. 8, nearly three years to the day of the attempt on her life, her story and her message will get even wider amplification, with the release of “He Named Me Malala,” the much-anticipated documentary from director Davis Guggenheim.

In the official trailer of the film, the off-camera interviewer is talking with her father.

“You named her after a girl who spoke out and was killed,” we hear the disembodied voice say. “It’s almost as if you said, ‘She’ll be different.’”

“You’re right,” her father says proudly.

Malala’s story is an important one for children of all ages to hear and understand.

Thanks to the generous support of a group of local women, over 1500 area schoolchildren will get the chance to hear that important message. “Santa Barbara Friends of Malala” have underwritten tickets and transportation through local school districts for two screenings of the film on Oct. 15 and 16 at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara.

“I am excited about working with you to bring what could be a life-changing event to a select group of your students,” said Lompoc native Ginger Salazar in her note to school officials.

Two homegrown educators—Deputy Superintendent Susan Salcido of the Santa Barbara County Education Office and Maria Larios-Horton of the Santa Maria Union High School District—will welcome students and teachers with some remarks prior to the screenings.

“I’m delighted and honored,” Salcido said of the chance to address students at the film. “Malala’s message is inspirational, and the generosity of 'Friends of Malala' to help promote that message speaks to the remarkable commitment we have in this community to children and to education.”

It’s a commitment that would have resonated with King. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically,” he once said. “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” Malala’s words and deeds indicate that she agrees wholeheartedly with King’s message.

Two visionaries. Two victims of unspeakable violence. Two giants whose words were mightier than any weapon. And two messages that reverberate across generations, across countries, and across cultures.

Quite a dream.