Teaching the Meaning of Martin Luther King
I was a child during the time Martin Luther King changed America. I was ten years old when he was killed. What I remember most about him in my child’s eye memory are the rhythms, the cadences of his speeches. Even though I did not understand all that he was talking about, I understood that it was urgent, important, world-changing. I knew deep inside me on a very emotional level, that he was a person for the ages. He made me feel that everything would be all right.
Even though I was so young, I remember exactly where I was when I learned he had been shot – I was at the grocery store looking through teen magazines while my father shopped. And someone came running through the store moaning and sobbing. And for a while, I felt like the world had been thrown off its center.
My older self has learned much more about the particulars of Martin Luther King’s life. His work was so profound, so broad as well as deep, that I cannot possibly say enough here to do it all justice.
Is there a way, then, to share with our children a sense of who Martin Luther King was and why his life and work are important to our lives now?
I think so.
Listening to Martin Luther King Speeches
When my children were little, we spent part of every Martin Luther King day listening to one of his speeches. Here I give thanks to the wonders of you tube. For those who are interested, here are some links:
- I Have a Dream https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_ZgSK9yIbk
- The Drum Major Instinct https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBiFnDuCJIU
- Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qf6x9_MLD0
- MLK Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r98tT0j1a0
- I’ve Been to the Mountaintop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixfwGLxRJU8
- I include also an interview on nonviolence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74XJJ3Tq5ew
These are links to full-length speeches. For those with shorter attention spans, you will have no trouble finding clips/highlights a couple of minutes in length.
Learning About Martin Luther King’s Life
There are plenty of video biographies that outline, in varying levels of detail, the facts of MLK’s life. Check out http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/martin-luther-king-jr/videos for videos on the history channel website.
There are also books geared toward every different age level. For small children, check out Martin’s Big Words. For older children take a look at Martin Luther King Jr. (10 Days) or take a look at something written by MLK himself.
Encouraging Your Child’s Response to Martin Luther King
At points in their lives, my children have felt compelled to create their own personal responses to what they’ve learned about Martin Luther King. They certainly are not alone in this regard. I recently ran across a video created (with help!) by a five-year-old girl who had developed a strong interest in Martin Luther King: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMr1Df80-j4. The possibilities are endless – art projects, stories, poems, research, videos, and on and on.
Many communities have special Martin Luther King Day events. Getting out and being part of a group of people focused on Martin Luther King’s legacy is an opportunity for children of today to build emotional as well as intellectual memory of MLK’s meaning in the world today. The kind of memory that sticks.
Martin Luther King Day: A Day “On”
You may have heard this phrase. It’s an opportunity to use your day “off” to continue MLK’s work. The Corporation for National and Community Service lists some ways to volunteer: http://www.nationalservice.gov/mlkday. Check your local news sources for opportunities near you!
My last thought for today. There are many wonderful MLK quotes. Here are two to reflect on this holiday:
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
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