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.