Monday, January 20, 2014

Helping to Make a Change

I remember learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when I was in elementary school...a long time ago J I grew up an Air Force brat, surrounded by my family in the 70’s and 80’s, so I didn’t really understand the importance of him. Then I saw pictures and the videos that went along with this time and that put things into perspective for me. I couldn’t believe that people were treated so horribly just because of the color of their skin. The first time I heard recordings of his speeches, I cried because he was such a powerful speaker to me. I still cry. As an adult, I still because of his strength, but also because we still have so far to go.

I remember learning about the Lovings when I got older. This was the interracial couple in Virginia that had to take their plight to court and ask permission to get married, because of the color of their skin...ask permission because of the color of their skin. The court sided with them in 1967 and they were married and stayed married until he died several years later. This case stuck with me because my parents are an interracial couple and they were married the same year in Greece. I realized in the ‘80s that if my mom was born in the United States they might not have been able to get married. It didn’t matter that they were in love, didn’t matter that they wanted to share their lives and start a family. No, because someone didn’t like the color of my father’s skin, they would be able to dictate my family’s future.

I remember when I moved back to the United States. It was a hard adjustment for me because race was a hot topic with so many people, but nobody could tell me why. I once was asked where I was from and when I told them that I couldn’t really answer that because my family went wherever the Air Force sent us, the question was changed to where was I born. Easy enough, but when I shared the state I was born in, the response was, “Oh that’s where your good hair came from.” Really? So came my first taste of the stigmas and stereotypes. I explained that where I was born had nothing to do with how I looked. Then came the questions about my parents. When I asked about the fascination, it all centered on my “good” hair. I was shocked and it continued throughout high school as race continued to be a hot topic and a friend and I were actually asked which side we would take. Umm, my side! I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now. Neither did they and I can only chalk it up to ignorance.

This past Friday afternoon, I talked with my students about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. All of them had heard of him and could tell me about his speech and that he wanted equality for all people. They didn’t quite know what that meant, so we talked about it. By the looks on some of their faces, you could tell that they understood that it all came down to skin color. Some of the students that I come across today are so quick to tear someone else down just to try to lift themselves up and it is heartbreaking to me. These will be the students to grow up and continue the cycle that we see in so many of our adults. I’m trying to help make that change in them. I want to see them all succeed; I want them to succeed together. Working together. Helping each other. Celebrating each other.

One day out of the year, our country recognizes the role Dr. King had in bringing equality to all people. The other 364 are up to you. Instead of complaining that you are being held down, lift yourself up. Instead of picking up a gun, pick up a book. Instead of putting someone down because of the color of his or her skin or the way they look, put a hand out and help someone succeed. So many people fought and died to help get us where we are. Now people are fighting and dying to get nowhere. Help start a change. I live it in my house with my children, and work on change with my students in my classroom. Are you helping or hurting?

They know what we teach them. Teach them tolerance, patience, respect and love. 

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