We’ve all had them, those moments of insight that are so clear and keen that your view of the world is forever changed in an instant. For me, one such moment occurred in April of 1968, when I was just five years old. My brother and sister had gone to school; I finished watching my favorite cartoon and was in search of my mom to enjoy some of my treasured “mommy and me” time (these were the days of split-session kindergarten and I was in the afternoon session). When I found my mother, she was alone in the kitchen, sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by the trappings of the hurried weekday breakfast, and she was doing something I had never seen her do before – she was crying. In that split second my heart leaped into my chest and the world as I knew it began to lose its form and shape. That morning I learned a terrible thing had happened: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed, and perhaps more importantly to my five-year-old self, my mother was devastated.
Seeing one’s mother cry for the first time is a startling event, but learning that a good person, a person who cared more about others than he did himself, was killed for his beliefs, was even more startling. I learned a lot that morning during the hours in which my treasured morning routine was derailed. I learned about injustice, about civil rights, about standing up for what you believe, and about our individual responsibilities to do what is right at all times, at all costs, and for all people. I learned that my mom had grave concerns about the world, and that part of her way to address her concerns was to raise her children with the values and conviction to challenge any viewpoints or practices that elevated one group of people over another. I learned about ignorance, racism, bigotry and oppression that morning. However, the most important thing I learned is that Dr. King had a dream for me, and for all of us, and that although he was no longer with us, we could make that dream our own. At the tender age of five, Dr. King’s dream inspired me to dream, and to see myself as an agent of change in the world. While the morning’s “lesson” by no means made his death less scary or confusing, it did lay the groundwork for values and ideas that have played, and continue to play, a significant role in shaping my life.
To this day Dr. King remains a source of inspiration and hope for me. His dream is every bit as relevant today as it was when he marched on Washington in the face of mass oppression. To remind me of that dream, a poster bearing his image and the text of his famous speech hangs over my desk. While the issues may have changed, and in many cases intensified since 1968, the core truth remains – together we must figure out how to be more loving and generous with one another. We must teach our children about the importance of making our lives count by serving our neighbors, our community and the world. It is this kind of education that might lead us to fulfill Dr. King’s vision for a Beloved Community: “It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
If you don’t have other plans for this upcoming MLK Day weekend, we hope your children will join us for our annual celebration on MLK Day, Monday, January 21st. Working in partnership with other area schools, students will engage in a day of service and inspiration. Dr. King said that “Everyone can be great because anyone can serve.” It is our hope that this day will help keep the dream alive in yet another generation of children who have the potential to achieve what we have failed to fully accomplish. In the words of Dr. King, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Monday will be a day dedicated to considering the needs and concerns of the community and the ways in which we can commit our talents and passions to the service of others, and in so doing, become more fully human and alive ourselves.
Comments? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org