Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King.
A few short years ago I believed that as a nation and as humans we had come so far since that terrible day. Now, I’m not so sure. The threat of violence in our culture is pervasive. Our government is out of control. Racism, religious intolerance, gender inequality – the list of unjust attitudes and practices goes on and on.
And yet, despite the continued struggle, I see rays of hope. I see it in the brave young activists working for gun reform. I see it in the passage of marriage equality. I see it in the growing rightful acceptance of transgender humans.
I see it in the musings of a 5-year-old: Recently I accompanied my son and grandson as they left school together for the national walkout day. Leo did not completely understand the issues of gun violence, but he did understand the concept of peaceful protest. As we walked out of school he said, “Remember that man who had a dream? It’s like that.” I don’t know how he put those ideas together in his mind, but I couldn’t have been more proud.
And I see it in the efforts of our partner schools and the kids who are tackling big ideas like racism and police brutality. Here are some of the thoughts of 8th graders currently discussing these issues:
“The question is, how do we get people to care?”
“Why don’t we arrange a peaceful protest to the police department to make change?”
“Proposal to send to the police academy: bettering an education for the police officers on their knowledge of culture. Talk about the negatives to arming police officers. More time in discussing scenarios of how to talk in conversations. All police officers should have cameras attached to their cars and embedded in their uniforms. Real-life scenarios of different situations that might happen. A class of cultural learning has to be embedded into their training. Healthy minds, healthy life.”
“There was a time, literally yesterday, where I walked into a store and I saw this really big security guard looking at me really weird, he kept looking at me and he kept looking like he felt that I was gonna rob something. It felt really weird and [he] just made me leave the store.”
“So, let’s start to think about possibilities for something to focus on in the project. We can take into account the different communities and use that to our advantage. Our final goal could be something like: spread awareness of the impact of racial injustice on colored communities all across America.”
“Support anti-prejudice and anti-racist organizations. Whether your efforts are in volunteering, financial donation or being an advocate, working with other groups toward the same goal can be beneficial to you and the community. You’ll meet great people and find real support for your efforts. By getting involved, your voice can make a big difference at the local level.”
“Make an effort to get to know people different than you. Look for things in common with other people and celebrate the differences. We can learn from and appreciate something about everyone.”
Yes, this gives me hope. Working with kids who care deeply about these issues is inspiring and reinforces my commitment to keep striving for peace and justice in our world.
So on this 50th anniversary let’s not forget that the struggle is real, and the issues that Martin Luther King literally gave his life to are still with us. Onward!
I’ve published the following before, but it bears repeating today. Written in 2014 by TréAllen, one of our retreat kids from Minneapolis, then 14 years old:
It starts with racist rednecks in the streets
Them coming at us is what I call black boy defeats
Harming us and marking the world with racist streaks
And I don’t get how we let it right the highest of peaks
All I’m saying is we could end this
Cause if not, we could make hatred endless
I got Drizzy backing me up, it go zero to a hundred real quick
You seen the four little girls and Trayvon Martin that racist people kill quick
And mama said be proud of my skin
Maybe they’ll be proud of my skin too, but I’m wondering when
They making kids wish they skin would lighten like Mike Jackson
Got me stinging – they tighten they purse when they see my black skin
And, G, they think we be skull cracking
See, now little black kids stuck hiding and masking
Ya’ know I don’t like it at all, G
They say King’s dream is done, but we far from free
I know this all seems fine
But this I can’t stand dealing with these problems in my mind
Let’s quit this before we get bullets in the air
Turning this anger into national warfare
Find our land of liberty into a warzone nation
And change this ‘cuz we don’t need no land of discrimination