The celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr.'s birthday has become very special to me. As a child it was
about a day off from school or class assignments centered on his
prolific "I Have a Dream" speech and the March on Washington. It
wasn't until I left home for college that I began to interact
differently with his legacy. It was then that I learned that he was
more than just a Southern preacher with a dream. He was a man who
imagined a world that didn't exist.
There are three things that I want my son to know
about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
He was a radical social activist
He was concerned with the plight of all
His dream hasn't been actualized. Yet.
A New Way of Thinking
I know that race is not an easy topic for many
parents to speak about with their children. Perhaps they think that
by not talking about it they are raising their children to function
in the same world that Dr. King imagined. Instead, I think some
parents have unconsciously created what Duke University sociologist
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, PhD calls "colorblind racism." This concept
means that we can say, "I don't see color!" yet maintain beliefs
that certain groups of people are inferior or incompetent. To do
this is to ignore one of Dr. King's primary goals: creating a just
world. Can we have a just society if we hold onto stereotypes about
one another? Dr. King's work was about breaking down barriers that
keep us all from getting to see beyond (but not forgetting) color.
Our cultural heritage is an important part of who we are, but it's
not all we are. What a radical idea.
Servant of All
When my son was in Kindergarten I asked him what he
had learned about Dr. King in school. He cheerfully responded, "He
wanted to free Black people!" I smiled as a mother does when their
child is excited about something and said, "He wanted all of us to
be free." In his
Letter from a Birmingham Jail King
"I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all
communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be
concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a
threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable
network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever
affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
This was written after his trip to places like
Ghana and India where he was able to witness countries that were
fighting for independence. While he was unquestionably concerned
with the plight of Americans of African descent, he was also trying
to make us global citizens.
A Dream in the Works
One of the reasons that I moved to my 'burb was
because of its emphasis on diversity of all kinds. On the outside
there's a nice racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and religious mix of
people. When I take my son to the park I feel like I'm in Dr.
King's utopia. However, now that I've become more involved in our
school's PTO, I recognize that there are some issues that need to
be addressed. There's a frightening achievement gap between racial
groups and students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. This
school year was my first real introduction to the Common Core
standards with its emphasis on preparing children for college and
However, I'm not sure what role, if any, it plays
in helping to address the achievement gap. This is not to absolve
parents from their role as primary educators, but it's never that
simple. We still have work to do.
As Dr. King so eloquently stated in his
1967 speech in Atlanta, Georgia:
"Now, in order to answer the question, 'Where do we
go from here?' which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize
where we are now. As citizens of a global community, let's raise
our children to acknowledge injustice and work towards repairing
it. Then we can all be free."
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