Possibilities III: “I Have A Dream”

I had heard the words of the speech “I Have A Dream” in bits and pieces but it was the day that a student from the Igbinedion Education Centre (IEC), Benin recited the whole speech that I took full note of it. It was featured on the 9 pm programme “Newsline” anchored by the legendary newscaster, Frank Olize. I watched it at home in Calabar, Cross River State. The programme, Newsline, shown on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA was a media hit. Do remember that, it was the time of life that you either watched NTA or the other choice was NTA. I said that right.

Newsline was an opportunity to have “less serious” news. It explored places, events, and happenings but most times with a positive spin. Some stories were weird while some were down to earth hilarious. Think of it as a lifestyle programme (in today’s lingo). Frank Olize, the host, did add personality to it. He was laidback and calm. He talked with the unrushed voice of a senior member of the family whose demeanour went in tandem with his mimicry of whatsoever was discussed. Chinenye Nwabueze described Frank Olize as such “Frank Olize is unarguably a legendary broadcaster who was a dominant brand at the NTA in the 1980s and 1990s. He was very popular as an anchor of Newsline, a programme aired every Sunday from 9–10 pm. Not just that the programme was very interesting, Olize’s unique style of presentation kept viewers captivated and glued to their television set while he was on air. He took television presentation to another level through that programme. He had a way of captivating his viewer’s emotion while the viewer watches the programme to the extent that he lets tears drop down from the eyes when the story gets so emotional. He made that programme a Sunday-Sunday tonic for many Nigerians.”

This fateful day in the mid-90s, he featured the recitation of the “I Have A Dream” speech done by students of (IEC). I cannot recall whether it was to mark the “Martin Luther King Jr Day” but whatsoever it was for, the recitation and dramatization were shown on TV.

Just in case you do not know what the “I Have A Dream Speech” is about, let me take a detour and briefly describe what it is about. It is a rhetoric masterpiece delivered by an orator of the prophetic order in the pursuance of the civil rights movement in America. It is a speech that infused biblical verses into social issues blended by a repetitive call for America to man up to its promises. The sole aim of the speech was to call America to live up to the promissory note that it had given to all its citizens — all men were created equal and should be treated as such. MLK cited pivotal instances and documents in America’s history including the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation and the US Constitution. What else can you quote if you are asking for written down promises?

Back to the matter at hand. What got to me was that the reciter was someone of my age. He delivered the speech with a poignant soulfulness that the speech and occasion deserved. I was intrigued, impressed, and moved. The words in that speech resounded with me. Then I asked myself “Can I make that recital?”. I answered back, as firmly as possible, with the truth that was at my disposal “No”. I counted myself out. I gave myself reasonable reasons. After all, the distance in social standing of those in IEC and moi, was as good as aiming for the stratosphere without propeller engines.

Fast-forward to 2001, as I resumed in my final year in the university, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had an industrial action aka “strike”. With inspiration that can only be divine, I decided to stay back in school. I had hoped for a short strike action but it extended. Well, I had a number of academic things to catch up on and also found some books of note to read. I went to Ring Road, Benin and found copies of “TIME 100” that biographed 100 influential people of the 20th Century. I bought what I could (money was always a problem as a student) and photocopied the others to read later. I was forever reading. My life practically changed during that period. I lost things, friendships, and time during this process but what I gained cannot be quantified, to date.

At about that time I remembered the “I Had A Dream” Speech. And I had just been introduced to the motivational works of Les Brown. I listened to a particular, Les Brown cassette more than 100 times. As I walked along one day I heard the MLK speech being played. It was coming from a room of one of the very few folks that also stayed back during the strike. What were the odds of wanting something and someone around you had it? I saw the “Law of Recognition” at work. I went to him and asked for the tape and he obliged me. I quickly recorded it and had a copy.

Again, I played that tape for half of eternity. At one point, I started writing out the words from the tape. If you had lived before Google and YouTube, you would know how laborious and tortuous that was. The good thing was that I did not see it as labour. It was one other task to be done. You see when you do not have options, then the only option is the option and there is no issue with it…at all. Off to work, I went. When I took walks, I practised the speech. If I forgot a word, I checked how I can align it with what was said. After a while, I flawlessly delivered the 15 minutes speech. I did not set out to do that. This was just the natural consequence of falling in love with a timeless rendition of an idea. I was just intrigued by the inspiring speech that was clothed with wonderful words. I saw the allegory, the heart behind the words and the use of words to cloth thoughts thereby conveying the message in very clear terms.

In my fascination, I remembered that some years ago, in time past, I had counted myself out for being able to recite the “I Have A Dream” speech. Here I was, doing it effortlessly. Never Say Never.

Before all these occurred, my secondary/ high school Chemistry teacher, who will be reading this piece taught at IEC. She invited me to come over. Mrs Joseph will never miss an opportunity to educate and inspire. She invited me to speak to the students there. I was adjudged, once upon a time, by the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN) at their conference in Maiduguri, 1995 to be the best Chemistry Student in Nigeria. This was after a competition that started from the Local Government level to the State level and I was awarded that honour at the national level. This was after my state was placed third in the national finals after Plateau State and Akwa Ibom. Mrs Joseph told them my story and allowed me to address the class. It was a nice moment. I enjoyed it but with loads of imposter syndrome. Here was I addressing the kids of the top politician, business mogul and military officers. What did I have to say to them that they have not heard before? It was a “na me be this?” moment.

After the speech and excursion with the students, I took a walk around the premises and saw where the “I Have A Dream” recital was made. It was part of my tourism pick when I visited IEC. Tracing it backwards, it seems everything comes together; at some point. My hearing of the speech, to the visit, to when I could finally recite the speech by myself. It seems well planned out but it is not true. Life only connects when you connect the dots backwards. The forward movement is like a free-range cow grazing in the fields. You never know. But you must move forward.

Life, indeed, is a journey of serendipitous syzygy. It can align in ways unimagined and in the commonest of hours. Na me talk am.

I have no lesson or morals to draw. I can’t quite say why I wrote this but like a musician who has this tune in repeat that he hears and see, he has no option but to let it out and share it with the world. My job here is done. Selah!

The first and second parts of this write up is here Possibilities & The Law Of Recognition and Possibility II: The Curious Case of Bassey & Word Problems. You can check out my other works on personal development Asking, Managing Access In Relationships How To Ask, Authenticity, Life Skill: The Power of Saying “No”, Start Off; Look Up & Pedal Hard, 12 Unforgettable Leadership Lessons From The Lion King, InBuilt, Now I Arise, Life Hack: Accountability, Life Hack: Simplicity, Life Hack: Making Impact. I also reviewed The Lion King and wrote about Movies That Shaped.

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