Monday, January 16, 2012

Explaining Dr. King's Dream to My Kindergartener

I've been struggling a bit this week discussing the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. with my 5-year-old. She came home from kindergarten talking about how her class watched a film and read a book about him. After describing the picture she colored of Dr. King ("Mommy I made his eyes tan!), she told me that he was the president of the United States.

It wasn't until a few days later that I saw the posted picture of her Dr. King, which was directly opposite a posted picture of George Washington, which she'd also colored the same week. I'm sure the close proximity of the coloring of those images as well as the constant presence of President Barack Obama in her life led to the confusion.

That same week I read Patricia Pingry's "The Story of Rosa Parks" to her class as the mystery reader. I'd read the story to her numerous times at home. We've visited to the King Center and attended services at Ebenezer and we talk about Dr. King and his dream several times a year. But I've been wondering just how much she understands.

We've been watching the Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church today and I just asked her what she knows about Dr. King:

"He was the president."

"No, baby," I say. "He was a civil..."

"A civil rights leader, that's right," she interrupts. "He was a civil rights leader and he told everybody to get off the bus because Blacks had to ride in the back of the bus. Only Whites could ride in the front of the bus. He tried to help people and they tried to kill him. So he died." And she went right back to beating herself at Connect 4.

She was so matter-of-fact and her thoughts about his death struck me as a little nonchalant, if not gruesome. But I guess I feel okay about what she understands at this point in her life.  Moving forward I'm going to focus more on teaching her about Dr. King's dream and his messages. Those teachings that I received from my parents are what I remember most in terms of learning about Dr. King.

Of course at my age, I also remember the hard fought campaign to make Dr. King's birthday a national holiday. I'm appreciative of how my parents educated me about not just Dr. King but also the many unsung activists (some they knew), as well as their own challenges with civil rights.

In reflecting on my family's legacy of civil rights, I remember fondly my grandfather, Detroit Lee, who just didn't take no for an answer very often. A righteous rabble rouser, he spent years knocking down doors for all of us, suing for jobs they wouldn't let a black man have. He brought a lawsuit in the name of his children (Lee v. Macon County, 1963), which profoundly changed the state of education in Alabama. Below are the outcomes of my family's bravery, according to Fred Gray, the attorney who filed the suit.

"Lee v. Macon started as a simple desegregation case against the public schools in Macon County, Alabama. It has resulted in the following:

1. A statewide order requesting that all of the public elementary and secondary schools in the state of Alabama be desegregated.

2. The desegregation of all trade and junior colleges.

3. The desegregation of all institutions of higher learning.

4. The merger of the Alabama Athletic Association (Caucasian) and the Alabama Interscholastic Athletic Association (African-American).

5. The integration of faculty and staff members of the public schools of the State of Alabama."

Now that is change for you. Detroit Lee was a change agent. I can only hope to instill the vision and fortitude of my grandfather and Dr. King in my daughter.

I hope whatever you are doing on this day, you are appreciating the freedoms won by many who fought hard battles on your behalf. I'm doing my best to live in honor of those freedom fighters and keep their legacies alive.

Keep on Enjoyceinglife!

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