I have to start with something of an apology on this post. When I was in elementary school, I remember doing something for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day every year- but that was because I went to his namesake elementary school and our principal organized a program each January. I remember lining up boy-girl-boy-girl and singing “We Shall Overcome” holding hands. (And HATING it- but that was because those boys were probably going to kill me with their cooties and not because I was against the message.)
Then, when I moved on to middle school, I really stopped doing anything. I don’t think that they’d really started promoting MLK Day as a “Day of Service” yet, and while I knew about some of the programs, such as the oratorical contest, I thought they were “not for me.” When I got into high school, long weekends were always consumed either by homework or by a Model United Nations Conference, and I didn’t really think much more about it.
In teaching my children, I’ve always tried to observe MLK Day by having them read about Dr. King or watch one of his famous speeches, but, again, I have shied away from taking them to any of the activities in our community because we’re white and I didn’t think that they were “for us”, and for that mentality I really have to apologize. I’m not sure to whom I am apologizing, maybe it’s to myself, maybe it’s to my friends, maybe it’s to Dr. King’s legacy, but we should have had our butts in the seats at one of these programs all along. This year, challenged by my friend Jennifer, I brought out my children to the oratorical contest, and I am so glad we went.
The students who take part in this competition are incredibly talented, and it was inspirational to hear them speak. It was also difficult, of course, because they had some very real things to talk about- especially in what has become a very polarized political climate. My son, who is very concerned with injustice, has been aware of many of the issues currently going on in our country with race relations, but he wasn’t aware that his Muslim friends may also feel threatened, and after listening to a few of the speakers, kids around his age, he was very concerned about making sure they knew that he is their friend no matter what. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I feel like solving the heart issues we have going on right now is the root of a solution, even if it’s just one or two kids at a time. I know there are many larger issues we need to deal with, too, but I can’t fix all the problems- but I can make sure that my kids aren’t a part of them getting worse.
If you get the opportunity to attend the program next year, I would really encourage you to go. The students who speak are a diverse group of passionate, intelligent young people, and they deserve a diverse, intelligent audience to hear their message and act on their words- an audience comprised of all of us, not just those who feel comfortable attending. The program begins at 11am and concludes around 1pm, so you do have to keep your children engaged over lunchtime, but the speakers are fantastic and broken up by a choir and some community participation (we did sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which I still remembered the words to after singing it for a report in my AP English class in high school, “Happy Birthday” to Dr. King, and “We Shall Overcome” holding hands- which was much more touching to me looking across Hylton Chapel at a room full of my community that I love holding hands and committing to supporting each other, rather than me worried about which boy I’d have to hold hands with.) The Deltas did an amazing job with this event, and I hope that if you’re not taking part in the day of service activities offered in DC next year, that you’ll bring your family out to participate, as well.