I don’t remember when I realized that I shared a birthday with Martin Luther King, Jr. It must have been around the time I started school, since we got the day off each year on my birthday too! I do distinctly remember how my heart would swell with pride when our teachers taught about him, year after year, during Black History Month. I remember how special it felt to share a birthday with someone who made such an incredible impact on the world.
I remember too, how I would share that fact with others . . . and how confused I would be when they didn’t seem excited too. I have a very distinct memory of explaining why I’d be out of school on my birthday, and a family friend rolling her eyes. I will never forget the look on her face, or her voice, thick with sarcasm stating, “Oh yes . . . you share a birthday with that GREAT man!” I was young, but I knew she didn’t mean those words. I remember being confused . . . and feeling left out of whatever joke she had implied. Why didn’t she think Dr. King was great?!
Now, as an adult living in the South, and as the mother of a child of color — I get it. I know exactly what she implied that day. And her voice ringing in my mind is one of the many memories that drive me to be anti-racist. Because MLK, Jr. was a great man — and his memory still inspires me to change the world.
“I Have a Dream”
It’s been 57 years since Dr. King shared his dream. The dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” As I raise my beautiful brown skinned daughter, my heart beats for his dream today – more than ever.
Will you teach your children to embrace his dream? If you’ve never watched the complete “I Have A Dream” speech, I invite you to watch and listen today. Let his words fan a flame inside you. Introduce your children to Dr. King, and teach them how to pursue his dream! There are many simple ways to start conversations about racism, equality, and allyship with your child — no matter their age or ethnicity.
Two of my favorite books about Dr. King are The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Johnny Ray Moore and A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler. The first is a sweet and simple board book – appropriate for any age. The second deals with themes that are a bit more mature (including Dr. King’s assassination). You may want to preview it before reading it with your children. [Check out this list of Black-Owned book stores to purchase these books for your home!]
Here in Birmingham, I felt it was important to take my daughter to 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park. Walking through to look at the statues together was a powerful experience. We were able to discuss what she was seeing and answer her questions with age-appropriate explanations. Days later, we were still discussing the experience as a family.
And we will continue to discuss hard things. To ask hard questions. To learn and grow together. And maybe . . . just maybe . . . with each passing year, we’ll get a little closer to realizing that beautiful dream.
When I watch the news . . . I know that we are still so far from making this dream a reality. Just this month, I have wept over how very far we are from it. My heart is heavy, but I refuse to give up. Dr. King is not with us today, but his legacy lives on. I listen and learn from his daughter Bernice King, and from other Black educators and authors. I recognize that I didn’t know how to be “antiracist” for most of my life. I will live with the regret of every shocked, silent moment, and every missed opportunity. I commit to learning now. I gather my courage.
And I smile when, right here in Alabama, I get to join hands as a white woman with a black sister beneath his statue. My dear friend Tamara, who lives half a world away in Africa, also shares a birthday with this truly great man. And standing with her as my friend and sister — on land that was before a place of strife and separation — once again, my heart swells with pride. What an honor it is share this special day.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King. I hope, someday, we can make your dream come true.
Are you looking for practical ways for you and your children to pursue Dr. King’s dream? I encourage you to find and follow educators like Latasha Morrison (Be the Bridge). Learn about the work of the Equal Justice Initiative and make a donation. Read books by black authors and other people of color. Seek out diversity for your children – with their books, toys, and daily life. (Find characters of every ethnicity for your child to learn and love!) Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute here in town, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, and other historic sites on The Civil Rights Trail. This year, you can even participate in a virtual Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee! Engage in a life-long journey of education, awareness, and anti-racism for yourself and your children. Let’s keep dreaming together!