We’ve Come So Far, Yet Still Have Far to Go

If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive today, what would he say to us? How would he feel? Surely, it would be clear to him that we have come a long way from the days of Jim Crow and ‘Separate but Equal’. Yes, I’m thinking he would be satisfied by the educational opportunities being afforded people of all color. Surely, Dr. King of all people, would recognize the enormity of our country electing its first African American president for not only one, but TWO terms? I believe that if he was just walking around downtown Atlanta, he would be pleased and amazed to see whites and blacks of all backgrounds peacefully working and cohabitating together….I AM sure of these things, aren’t I?

As someone born during the 1960s when MLK, Jr. was busy marching and protesting for equal rights, I grew up hearing the stories. They were pretty real to me. After all, it had just happened when I was a baby. My elementary school didn’t have any African American students, but what about kids today? They are not quite as close to this as I was. It’s more than likely that they have always lived in a world where whites and blacks went to school together, ate, worked, and played together. Sure, they have learned about the equal rights movement in school, seen old news clippings on YouTube, and watched movies like “Selma” at the theater. But, do they really know how far we have come? Nowadays, civil rights issues such as the “Black Lives Matter” movement are being presented through the lens of social media, yet many remain confused as to exactly what it all really means.

It has been suggested that today’s students view Dr. King as almost a fictional character. I know that my daughter will forever remember the movie, “My Friend Martin” that was broadcast at her school every year. I, myself, have almost memorized some of the dialogue from years of being a teacher. Not that the movie was in any way bad or misleading. On the contrary, it was a great, fictional representation of what MLK might be like as a youngster today and how the world may be different were. The key word here is ‘fictional’. Students today may need more, something real and tangible to truly experience Dr. King’s legacy. Perhaps as parents, guardians and educators we need to consider this.

OK, so just how do we make history come to life? Here’s a suggestion to consider next MLK, Jr. day or any day of the year…have your children do some service work. Yes, I did say the dreaded word that no student wants to hear on a holiday, “work”. But, if you think about it, just sitting around playing video games and watching Netflix is not going to be of benefit to a child. Really, when it all boils down, Dr. King’s message was about equality, yes, AND service. When addressing a crowd in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957, he stated this ideal, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

The city of Atlanta, like many metropolitan areas, offers several venues for students and adults to give back to their communities on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday or any time of year. In fact, many places call MLK birthday, MLK’s “Day of Service”, emphasizing the idea of fostering social justice through service. It’s definitely something to think about when you are looking for a service project for your family to be involved in. Instead of planning a day filled with virtual reality, we have the real-life experience. An example of that is on the link below: