if it wasn't for MLK...
Here I was sitting in front of my 27 students, reading the words of Martin Luther King Jr. hoping none of them noticed the tears welling up in my eyes and the emotion that was overtaking me.
The words he spoke, the things he did, the faith he had…all of it was so remarkable.
It’s awe-inspiring really, and I was doing my best to convey that to my students. Second grade is a tender time for this subject. It completely penetrates their innocence as they begin to learn that the world isn’t all good- in fact, it’s a lot more bad than good. It’s a hard moment for me to blatantly point out the differences in skin color and the mistreatment of some when the ratio in my class is 1 to 26.
Even then, in its tenderness, it is a subject that needs to be discussed and deserves to be discussed. It is a part of our history and greatly impacts the world we live in now. And more importantly, the work of MLK and the man he was deserves to be recognized and appreciated.
As I told the story of segregation, Rosa Parks, MLK, and Ruby Bridges to my kids, their faces were full of such conflict and confusion.
One moment I am telling them skin color is what makes us unique and doesn’t make anyone better than another, and the next moment I am telling them how blacks couldn’t drink from the same drinking fountain as white people. Or I am telling them of a brave woman who stood up for what was right, and then I am telling them how she was arrested for this act. Or even worse, I am telling of how MLK stood for love over hate, and then how he was shot and killed.
The villains winning and the heroes losing.
None of this matched up with the books they had read and the movies they had seen.
It was all wrong, and you could see it in their faces.
As soon as I finished my story and opened it up for discussion, hands were up everywhere.
Some explained how they had friends of different skin color that were very kind and good friends. Others asked why someone would shoot MLK if he was such a good man. Many spoke up about how unfair it all was.
Here they were, 7 years old, trying to make sense of what I had just said. Trying to find a way to fit the story I had just told them into the common theme of the stories they had always known- ones ending with happily ever after.
The innocence of a child is a beautiful thing. That’s part of what draws me to them. In their eyes, people are good unless proven otherwise, and the world is always on their side. They spot the penny on the ground while we are impatiently waiting for the line to move faster. They spot the dandelion when all we see are weeds that need to be pulled.
And Martin Luther King Jr. did the same thing in a more grown up fashion. While he was aware of the human tendencies and wasn’t blind to the evil surrounding, he chose to believe in the good of people and promote love. He spoke up and with childlike faith declared they were going to fight this battle with love and peace.
While many scoffed at him for his innocence in believing this would work, he took those childlike tendencies to heart and fought for what he knew was right and fair.
And in the end, he won.
He looked his enemies in the eye, and rather than first seeing the bad in them, he knew there was innate goodness there, and he pressed into that. He leaned into the true heart of a person knowing that with enough love, they too can be softened.
Kids are like that, too. Initially, until they are proven wrong, they love. They see a new friend in someone they just met, and eagerly await the chance to play with them. They give hugs generously and spread smiles abundantly. And they always stand up for the kid that is being put down.
And just like MLK did, we too can follow in their footsteps. Instead of going into situations or meeting people with the assumption something will go wrong, faithfully believe something will go right. When words are thrown at you that have the intention to tear you down, respond with love. And most importantly, when you see injustice, do something about it.
Forget all the things we know about how often you will lose and how twisted this world is, and instead, with childlike faith and innocence, believe that wrong will be made right.
Be a Rosa Parks and boldly fight the things that are not fair. Be a MLK and use love to overpower hate. Be a Ruby Bridges and bravely lead the way for change to happen.
Be a hero. One that stands up for the underdog and fights for what is right.
At the end of our discussion, I told my kids how much this day meant to me. I tried to explain to them that without it, without someone who finally took a stand to end injustice, you and me couldn’t be sisters.
That if it wasn’t for MLK, we would not have each other, and that is a big deal because a world of mine without you in it, isn’t much of anything at all.
Therefore, I firmly stand in my belief that I want to be an MLK. I want to fight for love, forgiveness, mercy, and hope. I want to make this world a better place, so that just like you and me are now experiencing the effects of MLK many years down the road, people can also experience the seeds of hope and love I planted forever.
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”- Martin Luther King Jr.
All my love,