On Monday, January 16, the country will be celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Schools will be closed all over the country, and children will hear stories and sing songs regarding the powerful work that became his mission. Writing in The Washington Post in 1983, Coretta Scott King, provided a vision of how the holiday honoring her husband should be observed: "The holiday must be substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a day of celebration… Let this holiday be a day of reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action for social and economic progress.” In her reframing of the day, Mrs. King offered us the challenge of finding the ways in which we can become active citizens in the service of bringing about progress. This call to action mirrors the mission of LREI which seeks to graduate “active participants in our democratic society, with the creativity, integrity, and courage to bring meaningful change to the world.”
As a community, we believe that children possess a profound ability to be agents of change. In the Fourth Grade, the students are reading Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. In it, Lynda Blackmon Lowery recounts her involvement in the organizing that was taking place in Selma during the Civil Rights Movement, and the March from Selma to Birmingham, which led up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The story is told from the perspective of her younger self, jailed 9 times before the age of 15, and depicts the power of children and young people to organize against injustice. Although the times may not require our particular community of students to stand up in this same manner, they can recognize injustice and use their voices and resources to make a difference.
One of the important messages to take away from an examination of Dr. King’s life is the need to place his work in the context of the civil rights movement at large. He was a member of a community that sought to create meaningful change through conversation and action. His work was made possible by the thousands of people with whom he worked on both small and large projects, all aimed at ensuring that everyone could have access to what they needed and live full and happy lives.
Throughout the year, the teachers and students are consistently reflecting on the ways in which we are creating space for everyone to feel completely and fully included in the community despite the diversity of identities and experiences that we bring. For our youngest students, the opportunity to create beautiful self-portraits and providing space to name the various ways we identify our skin colors sends the message that we can be proud of our identity and appearance while making space for the differences of others. For Kindergarten, conversations regarding how to navigate conflicts so that we can show respect while disagreeing with another person emphasizes the importance of recognizing the diversity of ideas that we all bring. Second graders are involved in conversations regarding what it means to be an inclusive community where everyone is treated with fairness and respect. These are just a few of the many moments throughout the day that children are engaging in this work. We will gather next Wednesday for our assembly during which we will connect past moments of activism to the present work students are doing in their classroom communities.
At LREI, we chose to spend the observance of MLK in the service of others, and in reflection on our collective responsibility to the larger community. If you are able to attend, please join us on Monday, January 16, at 10am, in the Sixth Ave. building.