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In Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem,” he famously meditates on the question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” Hughes implies that even when faced with systemic neglect, dreams attempt to “explode” forward. No obstacle of delay, regardless of magnitude, can stop one.
As long as we can dream, we will pursue them. So then, it stands to reason: The only way to stop a dream is to interrupt it.
Around 4:15 a.m. on April 3, the dreams of four Black Harvard students were interrupted.
That morning, armed Harvard University Police Department officers raided an undergraduate suite in Leverett House in response to a false 911 call. After more than 48 hours of silence on the matter, Dean Rakesh Khurana sent an email around 10 p.m. on April 5 to the Harvard undergraduate body. The email conveyed a sense of trepidation within the Harvard community, noting that any incident of this kind dispenses “implications, fears, and trauma” in a way that hits close to home for a lot of students of color.
For Black students, those anxieties stem from a violent history of Black dreams being interrupted. But despite this history, the word Black cannot be found once in the entire email.
Although it certainly existed earlier, this historical trauma can be traced back to the Ku Klux Klan. The first iteration of the KKK was founded shortly after the end of the Civil War to terrorize minorities. Then began their night rides. The White supremacist group would ride at night, in armed gangs, raiding Black home after Black home with the sole intention of instilling fear.
A message was clear: There was to be no sanctuary or retreat found in Black homes. Black families were left restless by the onslaught, staying on guard and depriving themselves of sleep for fear of violence. There was no time and no place to dream.
Fast forward to the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, pronounced to the whole world that he had a dream. His words helped to launch a renaissance, brimming with hope: His dream was partially realized in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But this progress didn’t stop the cycle of interruption plaguing Black dreams. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated.
At the same time, Black Power organizations like the Black Panther Party sought to create spaces for Black dreams to flourish through active resistance. However, this movement was met with the same response. Around 4:30 a.m. on December 4, 1969, 14 armed Chicago police officers raided the home of Hampton and fired over 90 bullets at a sleeping 21-year-old Fred Hampton — murdering him.
This pattern doesn’t end in the 1960s. Just three years ago, on March 13, 2020, a little past midnight, at least seven police officers in Louisville, Kentucky used a battering ram to execute a no-knock raid at the apartment of Breonna Taylor. Her residence was breached. 32 rounds were fired. And in the comfort of her own home, Breonna Taylor was killed.
The swatting attack that took place this past Monday was not an isolated incident — it can be strung together with a lengthy history of disturbances to Black dreams. The waking terror of having our dreams interrupted has followed us to the present.
Always prevented from getting rest, overworked Black bodies grow tired. Long-term patterns of fractured sleep caused by unease have been shown to lead to adverse physical and mental health effects. The basic object of sleep has become restricted. The harm has been done.
Dreams are revolutionary. The imagination spurred from rest manifests into tangible inspiration. It would not be a stretch to say dreams shape America’s reality. In fact, the foundation of America is a dream. The American Dream contends that prosperity can be achieved through determination and hard work.
Yet, it is apparent that not everyone in America is allowed to dream.
Time and time again, Black dreams are left unsettled. Under sheets and blankets, security should be expected, but only worry is found. The worry intrudes the mind and forces us to ask: Is the safety of my own home the next facade to fall?
Let us sleep. We just want to dream.
Lyndon C. Ward ’25 is an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Cabot House. Christopher D. Wright ’25, a Crimson Sports Comp Director, is a Government concentrator in Cabot House.
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