I’d like to hope that everyone who has today off from work will spend at least a few minutes reflecting not on how great it is not to have to work on Monday but on what progress, if any, we as a nation have made towards making MLK’s Dream come true.
I think about this because I taught Black students in a school that was 100% minority. The only major difference between the experience of my students and the experience of their counterparts in 1963 is that when I asked my students to raise their hands if they had ever felt themselves to be the victims of prejudice or racism, very few raised their hands.
This is great and not to be passed over. But what would MLK have to say about some of my other experiences as a teacher?
I taught summer school in a building that lacked air conditioning, potable water, bathroom stall doors, and pleasing aesthetics. Exposed steel and concrete were the mediums of decoration; some doors and windows had bars on them, adding to the school’s nickname “William Penn-itentiary”.
I taught students who didn’t know that Africa wasn’t a country or that they speak Chinese in China. One student thought Hitler was British, or maybe American. I had to teach 12th graders what nouns and verbs were so that they could understand Spanish grammar.
I taught students whose previous teachers were known to sleep, play X Box, talk on the phone, and read the newspaper during class.
I taught students who were able to answer my hypothetical question about what would happen if the school board suddenly decided to switch them to an all-white school and put the white students in our school. What was their answer? “That would never happen.”
This is not what Martin Luther King wanted. But his dream is not dead. Many of us see these injustices and know that we must continue fighting for a better future for all. Whether it’s through teaching, running a school or school system, advising policymakers, going to law school, coaching, or blogging, many people are working hard to give our youth their “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
Those of us who grew up in privilege often remain unaware of just how bad things still are, of how wide the gap remains between Whites and Blacks (and everyone else). But it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore these issues. The Internet, media, and films such as “Waiting For Superman” give us more proof every day that education hasn’t improved in the last 50 years but that there are people trying to do something about this. Each of us can do something to continue our national progress towards Dr. King’s Dream. To quote another great leader from the 1960’s: “one person can change the world, and everyone should try”. We’ve all seen proof of John F. Kennedy’s words, and we all have the power to be part of the change. I write this blog to chronicle and analyze efforts for change. Find your own way to contribute, and keep MLK’s legacy of working for justice alive.