Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Have A Dream

A few weeks ago we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. day. We paused to remember the (peaceful) struggle of American blacks against an oppressive, discriminatory society. We took a day to celebrate a man who dreamed America could be different. I have tremendous respect for MLK, Jr., for his accomplishments and for his daring vision. On MLK day I gathered with my wife and three children around a computer screen to watch his “I have a dream” speech on YouTube. It is with utmost respect for the man and it’s in the spirit of his vision that I modify his words to apply them to my own dream, my own vision of an America free of oppressive discrimination.

You see, I have dream that Americans will one day be free to live barefoot. My dream may seem trivial, but it is not. It is not trivial because at its core it is a struggle against an oppressive attitude toward differences. It is a dream that we will stop shunning those who think outside the box. We say we celebrate such thinking, but we lie. In truth we actively oppress innovative thinking and it’s only through much toil and sweat on the part of such thinkers that real change ever happens among the masses.

I am white. I am educated. Indeed, I am privileged to be among the small portion (less than 1%) of the population with an esteemed doctorate degree – in biochemistry no less, one of those hard sciences that has obtained almost idolistic authority in Western thought. As ‘Dr. Howell, university professor’ I am a respected member of my community. As a barefooter, I have felt the sting of blatant and hateful discrimination: I have been called derogatory names; I have been denied a table at a restaurant; I have been forced off an airplane; I have been escorted by security to the nearest exit. Most ironically, I have been denied a seat on a bus by a black female driver. But I have a dream that one day doing something as healthy – and legal – as going barefoot will be acceptable to my fellow Americans.

I have a dream that little white children and little black children can play together barefoot in the gymnasium. I have a dream that one day employees will be recognized for the quality of their work rather than the price of their wingtips or pumps. I dream of a day when the ‘barefooter’ is applauded for making the more natural and healthier choice to shun her shoes; a choice made not only for the health of her feet but maybe because she also refuses to subvert herself to the role of temptress in high heels in order to be a corporate player.

Truly, I dream of a day when shoes (or the lack thereof) are a non-issue.

They say you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes, but I long for a day when we will be judged by our hard work, our commitment to excellence, our creativity and ingenuity… by the content of our character and not by the shoes on our feet.

Am I insulting Dr. King? Am I trivializing his dream or making a mountain out of a molehill? I don’t think so because ultimately my dream is not about feet, it’s about the end of discrimination in all its forms. It’s about acceptance. It’s about seeing the world a little more like God himself sees it, for we know that “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

So yeah, I have a dream. Won’t you join me? Together we can not only free our feet but we can enlarge our hearts to embrace all people despite our differences.


  1. Well said Dr. Howell. I met you at the NYC barefoot run. I had read your book prior to that and now read your other media sites. Keep up the "fight".

  2. Cheers to that ! Consider me part of the team.....

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Welcome to The Barefoot Professor blog, intelligent talk about running, walking and living barefoot. I encourage your comments, even if you disagree with me. In this spirit I don't even moderate the comments. However, PLEASE use critical thinking skills when leaving comments, and avoid inflammatory words. Please keep your comments short and to-the-point. THANKS.