I grew up in Indiana, literally surrounded by cornfields. It’s a great place to grow up, but not the most culturally diverse play(especially in the 80’s and in the rural areas). My entire elementary school had 100 kids in it. I grew up and went to a Christian college that had maybe a total of 10 African-Americans enrolled (and to say “African-American” is probably not accurate, because many of those students were probably foreign students actually from Africa). I say all of that to point out that although my parents taught us to be accepting of all races, my experience and knowledge of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was relegated, like most white American children, to that one day in January when we would do some sort of craft or read one book about him.
Once I graduated with my teaching degree, I began teaching in Florida with a more diverse student population and really began focusing on incorporating more African-American history into my lesson plans and book selections. I purposefully carried that over once I started homeschooling Daughter P, but since she was only in Pre-K last year, the books on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were a little over her head, and I didn’t feel like they made much of an impact. But I was so wrong.
Last year we decided to go to Atlanta for our family vacation. Mainly it was because it was only a day’s drive and there were lots of great Groupons available. We had planned on going to the Aquarium and the Zoo, but Daughter H had recently been bringing home lots of books from the school library on famous African-Americans, so I suggested that we also go to the Martin Luther King Jr. historical sites.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how we would be received – a white family with four kids walking through these historical sites that are so sacred to the African-American community, but everywhere we went, our family was warmly received and we were complimented on how well our children behaved. But seriously, it was because they were engaged. Without really lecturing them too much, they just got how very important it was to be where we were. I will never forget sitting in the empty pews of the Ebenezer Baptist Church with just my family and listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching over the loudspeakers. Or how we stood to leave when the sermon was over and the singing began and Daughter P said, “Can we just wait until this song is over?”
It was a scorching hot day, but we walked to each site, ending with the MLK homesite. We had missed all the tours for the day, but the kids stood on the porch for a picture. We walked around to the back of the house and were shocked to find the backyard was unfenced and wide open. My husband and I stood in awe as we watched our four precious young children play in the same backyard that the great Martin Luther King Jr. had once played in as child himself.
On the way back to the car we talked to the kids and told them maybe someday our home would become a historical site because of something great they do. What an awesome thought! That visit became their favorite part of the trip, and they are already asking when we can go back to go inside the house.
So, this year for MLK Day, I really want to incorporate some neat activities into Daughter P’s school day. She’s only in Kindergarten, but I found these great age-appropriate activities online, and they introduced some great discussion (I have included the links when appropriate).
We began the day by watching the “I Have a Dream Speech” on YouTube. (Yes, Rosie the puppy dog watched too.)
Next, we read the book “Martin’s Big Words” by Doreen Rappaport and completed this “I Have a Dream” worksheet.
Lastly, we used this “I Have a Dream” form to examine two differently colored eggs and make some observations.
We still live in a mostly Caucasian suburb in Indiana. And no, I don’t believe for one second that such simple activities mean that racism won’t ever be a part of my children’s thoughts or behaviors. But it’s a start. Are the race problems in our country solved? Absolutely not. But I am proud that we have come so far. I am proud that my children can’t imagine a time in our country when white children and black children weren’t allowed to go to the same school or site together in a movie theater. I am glad that they don’t pick friends based on the color of their skin, but based on how much they get along with them. And I pray that I can teach them how to fight injustice, so they will teach their children, and one day perhaps we will live in such a nation that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of.
(p.s. Although MLK day has passed for 2015, these would be great activities to use for Black History Month as well!)