Confession: I’m not sure I ever cared enough about Martin Luther King Day in the past. Now that I have a black son and two white sons, I care. I care a lot.
I’m writing this post today to ask that you will care perhaps a little more than you already do. I’m writing this post to ask that you take a couple minutes to show your kids a picture of Dr. King’s face. Play a few minutes of his audio. Tell them why you care. Nothing fancy. If you have older kids, ask them what they know. Just take two minutes and say something.
I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my minivan while my husband is in the hardware store and my children of two colors are in the back begging for more goldfish crackers. I’m writing on my phone and stopping every sentence to settle a fight or apologize for forgetting the juice box.
My oldest (black) son asked why daddy was home today. As we do every year, we explained about who Martin Luther King, Jr. was – and why we care. I am well-versed in how hard it is to explain that to a five-year-old, since I taught Kindergarten. It was one of our state-mandated standards of learning.
It sucks to look at those little innocent faces and explain that people used to hate each other because of the color of their skin. Especially here in the south. I know it sucks to say it out loud. But, if you are a parent, I am asking you to do just that today.
As a parent of a black son, I am going to have to take this discussion a step farther than I did as a teacher. This year he asked why Dr. King died. I had to explain that some people hated. Next year, I might have to explain that some people still hate. The year after that, I might have to explain that some people don’t think that they hate, but their heart does. I’m going to have to talk about these things, and it sucks. It sucks to say these things to his beautiful brown face.
People who were beaten in Selma, Alabama for trying to register to vote are still alive today. People whose schools were shut down for months rather than desegregate are still alive in our very own community. Furthermore, the people who prevented blacks from voting (even though it was their lawful right to vote then) are still alive today. The people who beat them and even killed them for trying are still alive*. The people who prevented blacks from entering the schools (even though segregation was illegal by then), and who made the decisions to shut down the white schools rather than allow blacks inside, are still alive.
This despicable history is not that far removed from us. Don’t leave it only to the teachers to explain this. Don’t leave it only to the adoptive moms to explain it. Teach your children.
Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” That’s what we do every night in my house. At my table. With my own sons.
* In 1965, a state trooper named James Fowler shot and killed an unarmed (peaceful) protester named Jimmie Lee Jackson. He had run into a cafe to hide and protect his mother and grandfather. He was beaten and shot at close range. Fowler was charged in 2007 of first-degree murder. He pleaded guilty in 2010, 45 years after the murder.
Jimmie Lee Jackson’s story is told as part of the movie Selma, which was just released this month.
Not sure what to say to your kids? Let LeVar Burton start the discussion for you: click here to watch him read a story about Dr. King on Reading Rainbow.