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Words Create Worlds: A Reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Dream

Words Create Worlds

There is something solemn about the sharing of a story, particularly when done so vividly that you could almost feel the joys, sorrows, hopes, and concerns of the speaker just by their tone and choice of words. Great leaders tap into the emotive power of storytelling to create shared meaning and purpose and inspire change.

Words create worlds, using metaphor to speak to a deeper reality. Certainly, the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exemplifies this, and on this occasion, it is our responsibility as an audience across the ages to reflect on how far we have yet to come in achieving the Dream articulated and illustrated by Dr. King, a great champion of freedom.

A Promissory Note, a Bank of Justice

To revisit the words of Dr. King is not merely to examine his speeches as static texts, but his spoken word as a dynamic dialogue of allusions and imagery elevated by his authority in speaking. In his historic 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King uses this evocative image:

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check—a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Upon hearing this message (and the crowd’s reaction) once more, I felt my pulse beat stronger and my sense of duty intensify, as when I first heard it. This image, among many others, deeply moved me as justice is not an abstract concept but rather a concrete giving to another what is due to them. Through this image, that tangibility is clear. This image, when seen through the lens of education marketing, reflects the ways that higher education as a ‘great equalizer’ has fallen short and the barriers to entry that we marketers must check.

Great Vaults of Opportunity

We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

There is a clarity and conviction that underpins Team ERI’s work improving the engagement, response, and impact of education marketing. Whether due to our social, ethnic, gender, or socioeconomic identities, many of us have struggled in a unique way to get to and through higher education. We’ve experienced the invaluable ROI of a higher education – one aimed at the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of happiness. We are so much more than a digital marketing or design agency. We don’t just make websites; we craft pathways for trailblazers, paths to higher education that are simpler, more authentic, more engaging, and more reflective of the promise an institution is making to prospective students.

Justice is in giving to another what is due to them, and words create worlds. Are we shutting others out of ‘the great vaults of opportunity’ of a higher education through jargon or through flat messaging that is platitude and lofty? Through our institutions’ websites, are we creating a digital doorstep that is inviting and functional for all? Is it accessible in design? In messaging? In simple journeys to key information?

To extend the conceited metaphor used by Dr. King, we are – even in a small way, as higher-ed marketers – guarantors of the promissory note to which all Americans fall heir, safeguarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through higher education. These words have and will continue to create worlds worth defending. May we remember this resolve, and honor this obligation in all we do – not just as individuals, but as a community of diverse gifts and one mission.


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