A lot of people have been writing and posting today about Martin Luther King. I wanted to put a little bit of a personal spin on it.
When my daughter was in public school for Kindergarten, she came home and told me about what she’d learned for MLK Day. What she got out of it was, “A king named Martin had a dream and got shot.” After some prodding, I got her to explain to me that what they had done was listen to a song about him while they colored a picture. That was the extent of her lesson. I think that would be disappointing for any parent, but it was downright horrifying for me. (It was also a major tipping point in my decision to homeschool, but that’s a whole other post.) You see, my parents were major political and social activists, as well as being a biracial couple in the 70s. How could I get my daughter (and other children) to understand what a major impact people like Martin Luther King, Jr. had on our family? After clearing up who he was from an objective perspective (you know, like telling her his real name), I decided to tell her a story that would help make her understand why he was so important. Later, I told my mom the story and it made her cry. She told me I should write it as a children’s book.
Here is what I told her:
“People used to think that people with dark brown skin and people with light skin weren’t equal. A lot of people even thought that people who looked like Grandpa D [my dad, who is black] shouldn’t be able to marry people who looked like Nani [my mom, who is white]. Martin Luther King was one of the people who thought that was silly. He would get lots of people together so the could talk about how silly it was and what we could do to get rid of the rules that kept people apart because of their color. He worked really hard and got lots of people to agree with him. He gave a super popular speech talking about how he dreamed that, one day, the color of your skin wouldn’t matter. That what would count would be who you are on the inside and how you treat other people. It was a beautiful speech and it made a lot of people really think about how silly those old rules were. But it also made some people really mad. One day, one of those people shot him and killed him. But that isn’t the important part of Martin Luther King’s story. The important part is that he got so many people to think about those silly old laws, that they made new laws. The new laws said that everyone was the same and that color didn’t matter. And one of those laws said that black people and white people could get married and start families. That law is why Nani and Grandpa D could get married and have me! And without that law, daddy and I couldn’t have gotten married and you kids wouldn’t be here. So, we celebrate all the things Martin Luther King did to try and make everyone equal because without him, we wouldn’t be here.”
Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr’s Day, I invite you to think in specifics. It’s easy to think about people like MLK and Malcolm X and their impact in general terms. Try to think about the tangible things that actually impact you. My parents couldn’t have married each other before the Civil Rights movement. Even if I had been born, I wouldn’t have been able to marry my husband. My dear friend, Robyn, wouldn’t have been able to adopt her beautiful children.
How would your life be different without MLK?