Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day –Monday, January 19, 2015
Today was just not any day, but a day that was fought for to honor a man of peace, prosperity, and justice FOR ALL.
I told a group of students last week that this great man was not born on the day we get to stay home from school, but he was actually born January 15, 1929. After giving them more background to that fact, they were indeed intrigued. I looked into their bright and happy faces, mostly of those that looked nothing like mine. I was use to teaching Black History, and Dr. King to inner-city youth. But how does that work with mostly children of a race not of my own?
I decided when I first moved to Atlanta, the actual place Dr. King lived and breathed, it was such an honor and a privilege. I visited the King Center, and attended his church Ebenezer Baptist Church. You could truly feel his presence in the sanctuary. It was moving as well to look over and see his very own sister sitting on the front row! You just get overwhelmed in that powerful moment.
So how did I share this in the classroom I was in at the time? The first story I told to Kindergarteners when I began in Atlanta, was, “There was a time, where I could’ve of been your teacher…” I went on with this story and wondered if that was a good idea to share with 5-year-olds. But they got it! The light bulbs went on all over the room. They were so excited about the stories I had to share of black history…my history. All I could think was, if Dr. King could see me now.
That little group of curious cuties, who I affectionally called “The Miners” proceeding to want to research Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and other prominent African-Americans. One mom chuckled as she told me her son said at the dinner table, “Yea mom, we learned so much today, and did you know that Mrs. Mines was black?” We both found that hysterical! Kids don’t see color, they just see people. That moment became even more real to me.
The same group of innocent and inquisitive sweethearts, would rub my skin and hair, and try to put it on their skin and hair. They were just full of curiosity and pure love for their teacher. When we finally went on a field trip a few weeks later, our class was first on board, so naturally we went to the back of the bus. One girl said,”…But Mrs. Mines, didn’t WE FIGHT to NOT sit in the back of the bus???!” All I could do was literally laugh and smile…
So now being back in a middle school setting, where I am use to being, how do I teach older students about Dr. King? They surely by now have seen the world in a different light right? For what it really is? Not necessarily. I always start off with the story of my ‘tender kinders’ and how I taught them about ‘color.’ Then I showed them a trailer from the recent amazing movie released, Selma. There was dead silence. They had so many thoughts and questions just from 2 minutes and 30 seconds. One student said, “Did this REALLY happen? Or is this a fictional story?” I told him sadly, it is very true, but happily we have come a long way. Hands went up all over the room. Every student wanted to go and see Selma.
I then had them watch the original black and white version of the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by Dr. King. One of his most powerful and outstanding speeches of all time. I told the students to look into the audience…who and what do you see? What types of people were present?
“That brings me to my point of why I am sharing this with you,” I said. “It’s NOT because Mrs. Mines is black, and it’s about my people, it’s about Dr. King and his dream for ALL PEOPLE…simple JUSTICE. FOR. ALL. Light bulbs went on again! Another smile across my face.
To celebrate his life and memory, I challenged the students I talked with to plan in true ATL fashion, a birthday party for Dr. King! They were to make him birthday cards and have all the works of a true birthday party : venue, menu, budget, entertainment, guest list, and so forth. “How old would he be today if he were alive?”….after a few seconds of a pause to do the math they shouted, “86!” They then realized, if he wasn’t assassinated, he definitely could still be with us today.
So all that to say, 50 years after the march in Selma, 86 years of celebrating a great man today…there is nothing wrong with connecting him in the classroom and your community. It would be disappointing if we didn’t…especially because we can.
It truly can speak and reach any student if you share with them your personal stories of the Dr. King movement. A glimpse inside of your life, feelings, and experiences makes it even more real to them; more than any book or clip ever could.
Yes, yet and still I feel…if Dr. King could see me now. I only would want him to be proud.
Long live the King and his dream.
Thank you Dr. King. THANK YOU.