Some days, magic just happens, and I’m reminded why we’ve embarked on our 21st century roadschool adventure. Today was one of those days.
It’s Martin Luther King Day, and I knew we wanted to make it matter, but in a hands-on-real-life-to-me kind of way, not the worksheets and I Have a Dream posters they’ve come home with in years past. And as I suspected, they’d paid attention in school, so knew the basics cold and could recite them perfectly. But there’s so much more to the story . . . Like, why did it matter? When in the context of history did Dr. King march? And what does “march” mean, anyway? Why did he do it . . .why did he need to do it? What was the world like then, and how have things changed…or have they?
We tackled it all, starting with a brief review the timeline of historical events…the Civil War, then WW II, then the Civil Rights Movement. They immediately remembered Dorie Miller, who they came to know in our WW II work, the black man who saved so many, including his commanding officer, during the attack, but was passed over for recognition because of his color. We talked about hatred, and drew the connections between the Klan and the Holocaust, another dark period in history that they came to know so well during our WW II study and our subsequent visit to the Holocaust Museum in DC. We then watched Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech on YouTube, and talked about standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — as we just did on our last adventure — and picturing the crowds outstretched before him. We watched Walter Chronkite announce his tragic assignation, and talked about the media’s role in reporting these historic moments, then looked at pictures of the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis, just minutes from my hometown and family members they know and love. When we saw Jesse Jackson standing with Dr. King, we talked about his role in black history, and pulled up segments from election night 2008 in Chicago, when Obama was elected and all America — and the world — watched his speech from Grant Park, a spot we’d just seen when we visited Chicago a couple of short months ago. We watched Jesse Jackson weep as Obama spoke of change, and looked back at the young pictures of Jackson standing with King. They drew the connections of hatred, and discussed the similarities between the Klan, the Nazis, and today’s terrorists.
We watched videos of Congressman John Lewis, talking about the role of young Americans to question their nation, their leaders, and their future, when they believe wrongs are being done. I watched them closely as they listened to Congressman Lewis remind them that it’s young people — folks just like them — who actually force change in this country,and in the world. They heard him, and were empowered.
Then we spent the afternoon watching the movie, Remember the Titans. A family favorite, this time we watched it with a different eye. We heard the reference to Dr. King, and talked about it. We considered what it was like for a black coach to move into a white neighborhood, and talked about what motivated the owner of the diner to refuse service. And mostly, we talked about the transformation of the story’s main characters as they — just as Dr. King discussed — discovered the content of the character, not the color of their skin, of their fellow team mates. And we noted that, just as Congressman Lewis had said, it was the young people of the community — not the adults — who forced the change that brought unity and quelled the hatred.
We brought history to life today, in our own little corner of the world, and we connected it to the places we’ve been, the stories we know, and our own life experiences. We explored social justice, global connections, and our place as community stewards. It was a good day. Somehow, I think Dr. King would’ve approved.