I think it’s essential that kids grow up with memories of actively marking the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and birthday. At most schools this is a day off, and a growing movement advocates making this a “day on.” When parents engage with their children on the important matters Dr. King spoke out for, it sticks. Here are 5 simple steps to get started.
Volunteer. Search local churches, service organizations, interfaith coalitions, and school groups for a volunteer activity you can plug into. You can look up the official National Service Day website, plug in your zip code and find out what’s going on: http://mlkday.gov. Talk about some of the service options you’ve found over dinner (or whenever your family can best have a conversation), so that this becomes an activity you all own, care about, and look forward to.
Read – more, new, different. Spend time educating your family on the sacrifices made to begin realizing racial justice and equality in the United States (or elsewhere, like South Africa in the post-apartheid struggle). For the youngest children, here’s a nice list of ten books from Kathleen Cross’s blog, which also model diverse images of beauty our children need to see.
This is the Dream by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander is perfect for about grade 2 and up – and by up, I mean really up – I showed it to my 16 year old, who also liked it. The delightful poetic verse along striking illustrations by James Ransome make the harsh realities of institutionalized racism hit home hard. Then, after a glimpse of courageous civil rights heroes, the picture of the world as we know it today (imperfect but better) depicts a contrast that’s particularly striking. My eight-year old daughter read it over and over again. Another lovely and inspiring one is Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There’s a lot to learn and appreciate on this theme. Many books have been written of excellent quality. Just go on either of these amazon book pages and scroll down to “customers who bought this item also bought” to find other titles of interest. Then you can borrow from the library, buy on that site or go to your independent bookseller.
“Meet” more heroes. Beyond learning about Dr. King, I find it’s crucial to teach my children about a wide range of African-American visionaries, scientists, poets, philosophers, and inventors. In one speech Dr. King said, “We’re going to let our children know that the only philosophers that lived were not Plato and Aristotle, but W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke came through the universe.” And beyond Rosa Parks, what about Robert Hayden, Robert Smalls, Ruth Simmons or Wilma Rudolph?
Pray. If you pray or meditate, include race unity in your thoughts and prayers. Racism is a spiritual disease, and a simple meditation to keep in mind can be: “… welcome all with the light of unity.” It is offered in this context:
“The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in making the perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different colored roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.”
James Taylor’s song honoring Dr. King is like a prayer. Listen and watch here.
Everyday @Home. An important lesson for any family that wishes to raise global citizens, free of prejudice, is to take the lesson home. Don’t just leave it up to your school to offer all the lessons and experiences around Dr. King and racial justice (even if your school is doing a great job with this lesson). Actions you take at home send a powerful signal that “this matters to us.” And kids who grow up marking MLK Day with a parent or family member will cherish the holiday and what it stands for. They’re the ones who will build the better world we all long for.