MLK: Celebrating a Hero

Andrea Evans
January 14, 2018

Martin Luther King occupies a special place in American history for so many reasons—his stewardship of the civil rights movement, his advocacy for non-violent resistance, and his gift of oration, which produced some of the most famous and oft-quoted speeches of our time. There is perhaps no more enduring symbol of his legacy than his "I Have A Dream" speech. The speech addressed many compelling issues: the need to adhere to the Constitutional principle that all men are created equal; the injustices suffered by African Americans who were denied that fundamental tenet; and Martin Luther King's vision for a better, more just future in this country. We all know the famous line:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

As parents, we can of course agree with that dream—we all want our children to be judged by the their character, skill, accomplishments, efforts, and not just by any physical trait that they may possess or lack. But how do we realize that dream? Well, we can all start by taking some time to teach our children about tolerance, acceptance, and respect for all. To be sure, these are big weighty concepts. But as you well know, your youngsters are forming impressions of people every day. Help them to look beyond what they see and to appreciate the value in every person. If we all do that, we will make Martin Luther King's dream a reality and also make every little kid's dreams seem a little more within reach.

Here are a few simple and fun ways to introduce some of these concepts to your kids:

1. Watch Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" on You Tube. There are some good versions there. As you watch, point out to your children how big and diverse the crowd was. Reading the speech to a youngster just isn't the same.

2. Create a freedom bell and talk about the "let freedom ring" part of the "I Have A Dream" speech. Brush up on the lyrics to "America" and sing the song together. Talk to your child about what freedom means—maybe for a younger child it's the freedom to choose a snack or the clothes for the day; maybe for an older child the concept of freedom can include the voting process to elect a president and an inkling of what "equality for all" means.

3. Talk to your kids about their dreams and your dreams for them, focusing particularly on the "content of their character" part of the speech. What are your kids' dreams for their friends, their school, the USA, the world? You might be surprised at what your kids say. Jot down the dreams and revisit them in a few months. Talk to your kids about whether any of their dreams have come true.

4. Get a few books to help introduce some of these topics. We like...

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. by Jean Marzollo

An eloquent and powerful introduction to the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. This simplified summation leaves out most of the details, while bringing the essence of his life and work to young readers. A foreword offers options for softening the facts surrounding his murder for preschoolers. Pinkney's scratchboard and oil pastel illustrations convey both the strength and gentleness of King's character. Both text and art carry his central message of peace and brotherhood among all people. This is a good choice for reading aloud. Adler's Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Holiday, 1989) covers the same material with more detail. -- Review from Amazon

The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Johnnie Ray Moore

This little boardbook uses only approximately 200 words to tell about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to explain, in simple terms, how he ended segegation in America. -- Review from Amazon

Skin Again by bell hooks

In this book, bell hooks uses simple, rhythmic language to talk about race, and how what really matters is who we are on the inside. Chris Raschka's impressionistic illustrations will appeal to little ones. -- Review by Rachel Orfila, Being Savvy: Long Beach

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