Another M.L.K. Day

In 1988, I took part in the Freedom Ride – an opportunity of a lifetime where teens from Philadelphia boarded an Amtrak train to make a pilgrimmage through the deep south. We spent a week visiting landmarks of the civil rights movement, such as the home of Rosa Parks and ended the journey in Atlanta at the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violence. We spent the next week at the King Center, taking workshops on non-violence taught by one of Dr. King's four little children who was, by that time, a grown up.

In 1989, I was so transformed by the experience and so upset I had to go to school on M.L.K.'s birthday, that I went to my high school principal and asked (okay, begged) him to make it mandatory that all students watch Eyes on the Prize. He said no, but let me set up video monitors to air the documentary in the cafeteria during lunch. I tried not to blink back tears as my lunch period went on as usual. Students – both black and white – ate hoagies and chips as they acted a fool. Even during the part with the attack dogs. And hoses.

In 2007, there were no special events in honor of Dr. King within a forty mile radius of my home. The day started out like any other lazy Monday (except for the freezing rain outside). I proceeded to make oatmeal with vanilla soy milk and brown sugar as my three small children proceeded to tear the house apart. After they took their morning naps (at least two of them, anyway) I read them a story about Dr. King before turning on the television. The Disney Channel was airing a 12 hour That's So Raven! Marathon.


I wonder when people will stop considering this American hero's birthday a "black" holiday. Or an excuse to catch a sale at the mall. Then again, I also wonder if just the fact that a show about a witty African American girl was on the Disney Channel for 12 hours straight would be enough to make the late Dr. King proud. Would he think the fact that we're now called African American (instead of colored) and can live in integrated neighborhoods is sufficient progress in itself?

I don't remember my mom mentioning any "colored" Mousketeers – so I guess it depends on who you're talking to and the generation they're a part of.

And if they had to go to school on what should have really been a national holiday.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King. We're still working on things here, but the world is a much better place for having known you.


Christopher Chambers said...

Sad--a That's So Raven marathon? This proves my point...

Maia said...

Hi. I really enjoy your blog. This is the first time I've been moved to comment.

I was thinking about this topic yesterday. My son was invited to a birthday party - which, while I know it was convenient for the birthday boy's mom to have it on that day because everyone was out of school - felt a little off to me. We were gathering as a group and doing cake and presents and the kids were all running around and the parents were all chatting, and it nagged at me a little that there was no acknowledgment of what had always been a pretty solemn day where I grew up. In my high school, for instance, we did not have the day off, but we had permission to leave early to join the march that happened every year to commemorate Dr. King and his ideals - and the kids in my high school did march - hundreds of us - as did many other hundreds of people in our local community. And then there were usually speeches and music at our local performing arts center - acknowledging both how much things have changed and how much further we have to go. The day was both a celebration and a time for reflection and thought. It meant a lot to me. It taught me a lot.

And it disturbs me that my son doesn't seem to have access to the same kind of solemnity or events. It disturbed me that we attended a birthday party instead. I mean, I too read him a book about Dr. King - and tried to impress upon him both the importance of the day and the greatness of the man - but I definitely sat a while trying to figure out when this day just became another excuse for a long weekend and not the day of joy, thought and remembrance that it used to be for me.

Aly Cat 121 said...

I wonder why it's only MLK that gets a day? Of course there is barely any mention of Malcolm X day. There are a few cities in Cali that actually have Malcolm X has a holiday.

But then I guess if I were the colonizer of many lands and people, sh*t I'd make them celebrate my birthday, my momma's birthday, my daddy's, children, husband and throw in some other black folks that I wanted to ingrain into my subjects minds and the minds of their children and their children's children. So I guess I'm not suprised that there is no mention of anything on MLK day, cuz why would there be? I mean this is the United States of America. . . . United States of Alyson (hows that for the name of my country?) LOL

Liz said...

I was writing about this fact as well...that all BET had on was the usual...you know, Rap City. It didn't feel like it was really MLK Day at all. I didn't take my kids to the King Day parade here in LA, but I shouldn't have to take them to a parade to feel like there's some sort of observance, some sort of recognition. MLK Day didn't feel so...ignored like this last year.

cloudscome said...

I went to a Day of Service event with my boys. I haven't heard about too many other people who did that and I am wondering why. It's a perfect opportunity to give something back and it can be any type of activity that benefits a community... I wonder why it hasn't gotten more popular. It is the easiest type of volunteering you can do because it is usually very well organized, it’s fun, you spend the day with friends and you really feel like you’ve made a difference. It is very satisfying. The thing we did was a little beyond my little boys because they are so young (I posted about it last week if you are wondering) but as they get older I think it will be something they love. There are tons of events around my city. I hope it continues to grow into the thing to do... and not just once a year.