Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thank You, Dr. King.

On Saturday afternoon, I curled up on the couch to read with my boys. We were planning to start the second Harry Potter book, but first I asked them to let me read Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. In 2010, we read a biography of Martin Luther King Jr, and both boys enjoyed it. With Monday being MLK day, David has been learning about Civil Rights in school, but Haydn is homeschooled, so he was missing out. I was surprised when he did not know who Rosa Parks is, so I set out to remedy the situation. Kids, you know, need repetition. We had talked about Rosa before, but he forgot, and I want to make sure she is someone he remembers.

As I flipped the pages and read them Rosa's story, we came to a paragraph about Emmett Till. I was trying to read normally, but Haydn noticed my shaky voice and teary eyes and asked why I was crying. I stopped reading then and told my sons the story of Emmett Till in my own words. I told them how I feel for his mother and how amazing what she did (open casket) was. They didn't understand. Why would it matter if a black boy spoke to a white woman? Why did black people have to sit on the back of the bus? Why did they use separate drinking fountains and go to different schools?

At the end of Sunday service, a video was played. A handful of children were speaking, answering the question, "What does Dr. King's life years ago mean to your life today?" Many of the young black students explained how they can dream because King dreamed. They can go to college, have the career they want, even be president, because of the life King lived before them. One little white girl said she was grateful for Dr. King, because without the Civil Rights Movement she would not know the children who were her best friends.

I cried listening to them, as I cried trying to explain Emmett and Rosa to my own sons. I am grateful to Dr. King as well. This country isn't perfect. We have not wiped out all racism, but we do live in a world where my sons are perplexed by segregation. They cannot understand why it was ever the norm. It is so hard for me to explain what once was just a way of life to little white boys.

My sons can safely live a life filled with people of every color. My sons are free to ask, "Why did the white people think they were better than the black people?" because of Dr. King. Thanks to Martin Luther King Junior, I - a white woman - can sit on my sofa and cry for a dead black boy, openly disgusted by the actions of some idiot white men and the court that let them go.

Because of Dr King and those who stood with him, before him, and after him, I can read Nikki's words to my children. I was able to grow up with a variety of races all around me. I am especially grateful for that. See, I was one of those "different" kids in school. I struggled to fit in with my peers. At my high school, I would be the first to tell you, the black girls were always nicer to me than the white girls. They taught me to dance, calling me the "black white girl" when I was surprisingly good at it. They built me up, even as the girls I would have been forced to spend my time with, pre-civil rights movement, tried to tear me down.

Thank you Dr. King. Thank you for the country of your dreams.

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