We started off this week with a holiday. Not one with ribbons and bows and its own soundtrack, but an important one just the same. At our house, like many others, it was an opportunity to sleep in and play a little school-approved hooky, but the day means so much more than that.
Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day – a day set aside to honor one of our country’s visionaries, a man whose wisdom and unselfish perseverance helped to change the face of our nation, even while costing him the ultimate price.
This past October, my oldest son and I were fortunate to be able to, while on a trip to Washington DC, visit the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, just days before it was dedicated. A humbling and symbolic sculpture, it made me reflect on the sacrifices of Martin and so many like him, made to try to ensure that the freedoms I enjoy were afforded to everyone without prejudice.
We were able to converse with an African-American family who shared with us what it was like living in America during the civil-rights era, and how the Jim Crow laws affected them when they traveled to visit family in the South. We also saw a just-married couple, who were so inspired by Dr. King, that they chose to take wedding photos there with the statue.
Also in Washington, while visiting the Museum of American History, we were able to participate in a mock sit-in in front of a piece of the very lunch counter where the Greensboro Four sat down for coffee at a whites-only establishment, eventually leading Woolworth’s to change their policy of segregation.
I am not ashamed to say that I openly cried as our group sang together the songs of the Civil Rights movement. I was moved by the emotion, and so very grateful that my son was able to have these experiences to help realize for him the struggle that so many of our fellow Americans have had to endure, and the strength with which they stood up and made change.
My younger two boys were not with us on this trip, but we try to teach Dr. King’s messages of tolerance to them at home. We have several books profiling not only Martin, but also his compatriots in the cause, and on Monday we made sure to take a second in our extra day off to read them and reflect upon their message.
One of my favorites is “Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Doreen Rappaport. Appropriate for all age levels, it shares with kid friendly simplicity King’s mission for equality and belief that all men are created equal. It tells a brief version of Martin’s life story, but each page also includes an actual quotation from King, including one of my very favorites, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
Other notable titles include (in ascending age order):
- “March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World” by Christine King Farris
- “Happy Birthday Martin Luther King” by Jean Marzollo (my husband shares this one with his elementary school students and especially loves it for the beautiful illustrations by J. Brian Pinkney)
- “Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Life of Fairness” by Tonya Leslie
- “Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream” by Jacqueline A. Ball
While the events of King’s life took place a long time ago, in a part of the country far removed in just about every way from our beach existence here in Newport, the lessons they teach could not be more relevant here and now, whether on a Monday in January, or a Friday in November. They apply to each of us, whether trying to change the world, or just navigating the playground. Treat one another with respect. Don’t judge a book by its cover. And “Love is the answer to the problems of the world.”
Thank you, Dr. King.