As kids enjoy a day off from school today thanks to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, conscientious parents will try to make sure the time is spent remembering this great civil rights leader and his legacy.
Yet barely two weeks into 2017, it is difficult to view the year as one that would have made King happy.
Kids today need to understand King as he truly was — a pastor and a complex thinker of great faith who believed that non-violence is key to lasting change.
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Kids see and hear the news of crumbling racial relations in our country almost every day. Dylann Roof, the individual responsible for a massacre at a historic black church in Charleston almost two years ago, refused last Wednesday to look any of the victims’ loved ones in the eye at his sentencing. Many of them, however, were actually seeking to bestow forgiveness.
A week earlier, four black young adults in Chicago kidnapped and tortured a mentally challenged 18-year-old white man, making him drink toilet water while cursing our future president. The youths invited the nation to watch their despicable abuse of the young man on Facebook Live. And that’s just the first two weeks of the year.
This is not the country King dreamed of some 50 years ago for America’s children. Not even close.
King would likely be shocked at the lack of racial progress in the U.S. decades after his death. War, extreme poverty, and divisions between the races remain stagnant or even worse, and these issues were key to King’s outlook regarding the roots of racial progress.
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Over the course of his brief life, King revealed an interest in many “-isms” well beyond conventional liberalism and its view of racism. “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism,” he famously said in 1967.
King devoted great energy to discussing their interconnectedness and the need for sociopolitical solutions that recognized all of these must be battled simultaneously. For instance, he tied the funding for the Vietnam War to the scarce resources provided for social services for the working class.
Kids today need to understand King as he truly was — a pastor and a complex thinker who believed that nonviolence is key to meaningful protest and lasting change. His faith was central to his message. Yet revisionist history has largely erased this. Do kids today even know that King was a pastor?
Kids might also be interested to know that King was a normal boy who hated doing the dishes and loved ice cream and the board game Monopoly. He was even known to use the heads of his sister’s dolls as baseballs.
“He was an ordinary kid,” Marty Smith, a park ranger at the Martin Luther King Jr. national historic site, told The Washington Post. “Just later on in life, he did extraordinary things.”
Proper education that examines all the factors that make for good race relations is critical for America’s kids.
Many placated their consciences with Obama’s election as clear proof that “we, the people” had come a long way in regard to race — after all, the commander-in-chief was living, breathing proof of our forward thinking. And to a certain extent, of course, they were right.
But skin color is no substitute for tough, thoughtful, skilled leadership. While it was important that a black person assume the highest office in the land, we should have voted for the right leader, black or white. Children need to understand that being qualified for a job is what matters — not skin color. Instead, we were given a man whose progressive ideology and quickness to see racial bias when none existed bore the rotten fruit of racial disharmony and discord, and promoted extreme tension between police and citizens.
Are kids allowed to hear this in schools today? This is doubtful, especially in schools where teachers openly wept after Donald Trump was elected and Hillary Clinton lost. Just as they have turned Martin Luther King Jr. into an icon who suits a progressive ideology, most schools and the media have steadfastly looked anywhere but to Obama and his cronies when lamenting widening chasms between the races.
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Former North Carolina Sen. Malcolm Graham was quoted some time back as saying, “I think [King] would be pleased that, despite our differences, people of good will have the ability to come together across racial lines. Our country has become more diverse, with more shades of color. You go to a restaurant, you see people of different races dining together. They are working together. You go to a concert hall with a black performer, and the audience is diverse. Individuals of color are now doctors, accountants, president of the United States. That’s the type of inclusion and equality [King] was seeking.”
Interestingly — South Carolina became the last state in the Union to pass a resolution to observe the birth of King annually, on the third Monday of January, back in 2000. A whole nation was finally in agreement about acknowledging an important leader (and offering the citizenry a paid holiday). Agreeing about root causes of racial strife remains as elusive as ever. Proper education that examines all the factors that make for good race relations is critical for America’s kids — and honors King’s lasting legacy.