Today, as I write this, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. My son who is in public school is home today. The postal service is closed (which, yes, I only remembered after I loaded my mailbox with outgoing mail this morning.) Perhaps your town has a parade. Or maybe your local TV station plays excerpts from the famous "I Have A Dream" speech.
But I think the legacy of Dr. King--and all the others who went before him and stood with him during the Civil Rights movement--is deserving of much more than just a day that is simply observed by closing state and federal offices.
I will be upfront and say that I do not agree with many of Dr. King's theological positions, nor some of his reported moral shortcomings. But his message to America, as well as his willingness to sacrifice his life in the fight for equality and freedom for black Americans, is worth remembering and emulating.
Long gone are the days of Jim Crow segregation, and the tide has turned in America. We don't have separate schools anymore. Blacks aren't required to sit at the back of buses. White and black people can marry without any fear of harm or crosses being burned in their front yard. Hey, I even have 5 non-white children. These are things that were unheard of during Martin Luther King's day. But these things have happened because of what he and so many other steadfast and brave activists set in motion during the Civil Rights Movement.
Yes, as a white person who has adopted black and biracial children, I feel the heavy weight of gratitude toward Martin Luther King and all the others who risked their lives and faced imprisonment and mistreatment, to advance the civil rights of the black population. I know full well that my family would look different if Jim Crow were still in place. I would not have my cuddles with my precious 8 and 5 year olds. And while parenting teens is challenging, it's sobering to think that three of my teens would no longer be in my family. We would all be missing so much!
As I raise my children, I am fully aware that there is still discrimination against minorities. I wonder sometimes about what kind of discrimination my children will face that I have never had to face. We have so much to be grateful for, but I want to be careful to not turn a blind eye to the things that still need to change.
I do think that transracial adoptive families are on the front lines of this battle. After all, who else is a better demonstration of genuine racial equality than families where brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers of different races are treated and loved as complete equals?
No, our family didn't adopt transracially to be some sort of "white Christian saviors," as one internet troll recently called me. Gag me. But we know full well that our decision to adopt transracially has given us a unique opportunity to educate people with kindness when they make rude remarks (and boy, have we heard some doozies!) It's not something we necessarily signed up for, but it does come with the territory.
In fact, a family I follow on Facebook and Instagram recently shared their experiences dealing with hateful remarks in public simply because they are a black family who is raising a white son. They used the opportunity and their fame to educate. See, there is still so much to do, and adoptive families have the unique privilege of being in a position to speak up and show the world true equality within our families. We are truly living out Dr. King's words from the I Have A Dream Speech:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
So for our family, Dr. King's legacy is not something to remember just one day a year. It's a something we are grateful for year-round. And if you are not white, if you have black coworkers, church family, family members, friends, students, neighbors, community members, Dr. King's work in advancing Civil Rights is something to celebrate year round as well (and if you don't....well, I would encourage you to get yourself a more diverse set of friends.)
Let's all honor the legacy--today, and every day--by standing up for what is right. When someone is treated unfairly, speak up! Show kindness to others. And educate the next generation.
As a history teacher and a mom, here are some of my recommended resources for remembering Dr. King, as well as many of the others who fought for equal rights (even back to the time of the Civil War and slavery.) I'm sure many more will come to mind, and I will add to the list. But these are all resources that I have used, read, or am very familiar with.
Dr. King resources for children:
- Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech: I recommend watching it with your kids and then discussing. A simple google search will give you multiple free discussion guides, if you feel you need one.
- Martin Luther King's Letter From Birmingham Jail: This is not nearly as widely known as the I Have A Dream speech. Yet, I feel it is equally or even more powerful. The tone of the letter is not the same as the tone of the speech.
- Younger children can make a Martin Luther King, Jr. lapbook with this free resource.
Abolitionist and Civil Rights and Black History resources for children:
- Frederick Douglass: He is one of my favorite authors from the Civil War/late 19th century. I dare you to read his books and not be moved in your soul. The two books I recommend are The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and My Bondage and My Freedom. (Note: this deals with the harsh realities of slavery, so you might consider if you have younger kids if you plan to listen to it as an audio book.)
- Heroes in Black History: I love this book for younger children!
- George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Way video
- Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation: A great book about Rosa Parks!
A couple field trip ideas:
- National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee
- The George Washington Carver National Monument: This is a hidden gem in the middle of Missouri. I don't think a lot of people know about it, but it is a fantastic place to visit.
How does your family celebrate Dr. King's legacy? I'd love to hear about it!