The other day my sons were watching basketball on tv. I could hear the eight year-old cheering in the other room, but stopped in my tracks when I heard him yell, “Come on black guy!”
Wait, what did he just say?
Imagine my relief when I came into the family room and discovered that he wasn’t cheering for a player with a particular skin color, but instead a player with a particular jersey color. I didn’t want to assume this or leave anything to chance, so I asked a pointed question about what he meant and he looked at me with a dumbfounded expression wondering what I was even asking about.
My son has several friends of different skin colors and nationalities. While I’m sure he notices their differences, I’m also sure he doesn’t care. They are his friends. Period.
I guess I’ve never really thought too much about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I mean, I’m proud that our country honors Dr. King each year, designating a day to celebrate his life and contributions. But, beyond a day off of school for my kids and a fleeting thought of “MLK, Jr. was a good guy,” my life has been relatively unaffected by this national holiday.
Until this year. This year I’m taking notice.
There’s just something about the circumstances of 2016 that makes MLK, Jr. Day 2017 important. Last year, the U.S. was filled with racial tension and racially-motivated acts of violence. Add in a divisive presidential election, and it feels like our country is torn in two, divided in half by skin color.
I’m sure Dr. King wonders how we got here. When he was dreaming in the 1960s, did he expect us to be further along in 2017 than we are? Did we take steps forward only to have taken steps back?
It sure seems that way. Being a white woman from the suburbs, I have no idea what it’s like to be a person of color. I can only imagine the daily struggles facing my brothers and sisters struggling for basic rights and collective respect. I don’t walk through each day judged or discriminated against. But, they do. This breaks my heart and leaves me feeling powerless.
But, I’m not powerless. I’m raising the next generation.
As a mom, I think a lot about the things I want my kids to learn. Every day holds lessons about hard work, kindness, loyalty, and the importance of changing their socks for everyone’s benefit (please!).
But, I can think of no more important lesson than teaching them to love and embrace all people.
I don’t say this lightly. It’s not some catchy saying I picked up off a meme, and I’m not one to throw out a warm and fuzzy, all-you-need-is-love sentiment just for fun or popularity.
I truly mean it.
We need this kind of approach to our world right now. We need honest dialogue and discovering what we have in common.
I read a book about race recently. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult tackles racial hatred head on. As Picoult tends to do, she forces the reader to look at their own biases and stances on hot-button issues. In this book, a member of a white pride organization sues an African-American nurse after his newborn son dies.
I highly recommend this book as well as the movie Hidden Figures. Both celebrate strong, smart African-American women and leave you wondering, “How on earth did we as a country once believe that all people aren’t created equal?”
But, these aren’t the only things leaving me hopeful this January. I’m also inspired by two local churches. One church is located in the western suburbs and its members are primarily white. The other is located at the foot of the state capital and is a predominantly black congregation. The churches had an ongoing relationship for years, but earlier this fall the two head pastors decided they needed to start an intentional conversation about race in our city. And so they did.
The One Gathering events started in November, meeting the first Tuesday of each month at Elim Christian Fellowship. While the program may feature different speakers or topics, the heart behind each gathering is consistent: I love you. Your story is important to me. Let’s talk.
There is a movement of love happening.
Case in point, Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre is bringing Akeelah and The Bee to the stage in February. The story highlights a bright, young African-American girl from inner city Chicago and the struggles and support she receives from her community as she pursues her goal of reaching the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking as you cheer Akeelah through the various obstacles she faces simply based on her race. Kudos to DMYAT for bringing it to the stage and continuing an important conversation.
These are only a few examples of people across this city uniting behind Dr. King’s dream to experience a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin. There are more. You might not hear about them on the local or national news, but a hand reached out in friendship is powerful. An honest conversation can go a long way toward making Dr. King’s dreams come true.
That’s what makes me hopeful this MLK, Jr. Day. It’s why I’m paying attention. I don’t want to let this holiday slide by without recognizing the important role my kids and I can play in changing our world.
We can make a difference by celebrating differences.
We can embrace change by embracing others.
We come to an understanding through seeking to understand.
And that, my friends, would make Dr. King proud.
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