Last week for school, Lauren brought home some interesting homework. In preparation for Black History Month, we were to talk to our children about Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn't hard to guess where this topic was headed. This is another one of those times that as a parent, we have to teach our children, and try to explain, about the terrible things that people do to one another. LDS kids (and other children of Christian faiths) get a little bit of practice, because, lets face it..the scriptures are FULL of people doing bad things. The Christmas story alone is enough to send my Sunbeams quaking in their loafers and patent leather Mary Jane's.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
Ouch. It is amazing to me that my mom was a teenager when this speech was given and how right he was. Not drinking from the same fountain? Not going to the same schools? Not eating in the same restaurants? Can you even IMAGINE that? I have felt tiny little licks of prejudice as a mother by people who don't like children or choose to understand the difficulties that come with taking a child on a plane or to a restaurant. But, I have a group of people to back me up and say that I am right and valid. Did the people who were involved in the Civil Rights movement have ANYONE that told them that what society said wasn't true? I am thinking not. For the past several hundreds years, society told these folks in every possible way that they were NOT equal. They were NOT to mix. What kind of bravery and courage did it take to decide that it was time the world realized that was just not true? I get huffy when I have to confront someone about my children, I can't imagine doing what they did. I would like to believe that I would have been one of the ones who would have stood up but I am not sure what I would have done.
Black history has taken a new meaning in our house for obvious reasons, but also because Lauren is in school now and is being taught things that it never occurred to me to explain to her. In our family, we had already had a few discussions in this vein.
"Mom, were there black pilgrims?"
"No, the pilgrims were all white".
"Because they came from a place called Europe, and all the people there were white".
"Then how did black people get here?"
"They came on a different kind of boat sweetie".
Does my 5 year old need to understand the complexities of the slave trade? Right now, no. Is it important that she understand how and why black people came here. Absolutely........when she is 6 or 8 or 12 or whenever we feel like she can have a discussion about it. I have bought a few children's books about slavery and we will crack them out when the time comes. They even come with discussion questions in the back. Bless those authors!
The combination of February (all the lovey dovey stuff in the air) and the fact that I am an insomniac and tend to get pretty cheesy when I am up late has gotten me thinking. As I get older and pass in and out of various stages in my life I am increasingly grateful for those that have come before me. It is finally sinking in that our entire generation is the recipient of many, many privileges that the people who came before us had to work very hard to achieve. I am so grateful to be a woman, in this country and in this decade. I am grateful for the women who stood up so that I could vote and own property. I am grateful for the women who insisted on attending university, law school and medical school when it wasn't an acceptable thing. I am grateful for them and for the people who hired them; they paved the way to give me so many options when deciding what I wanted to do with myself. I am grateful for all the women who worked so hard to ensure that women could be treated equally in the workplace, that we could have things like maternity leave and company daycare. I am also grateful for all the women who stayed home and raised their children and showed me and the rest of the world that educated, capable and intelligent women really DO have a choice and that choice is not always the workplace. I am thankful for the doctors that took the time and the companies that took the money to research cancer and it's treatments. I am grateful for the people who took experimental drugs that allowed us to figure out how this disease works. It is one of these drugs that is saving the life of my mother-in-law right now. I have realized that I am actually living the end result of what most of these early crusaders hoped that their actions would lead to. We all are.
In honor of Black History month, I am also thankful for the people that decided 40 years ago that enough was enough. That they decided to "cash the check" that America wrote them when they emancipated the slaves that told them they were entitled to the same rights and liberties. The direct impact it had in my life was that I was able to grow up and know that it didn't matter if my kids were black, white or green. When it came time to decide how my husband and I would create our family we didn't have to worry if we would be ostracized by our family for adopting our son or worry that our life or his life would be endangered. What a gift.
"I have a dream that one day...little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. "
When I was telling Lauren about how brown people couldn't sit at the front of the bus or go to school with white kids or eat at the same restaurants she was having a hard time believing it. "just because their skin is different, mom? That is it?" How amazing that the thought of these things are viewed as so outlandish today that even a 5 year old is incredulous. She followed up with "does that mean white people couldn't adopt brown people?" When I told her yes, that was true too, she got really teary eyed. She walked over to Jacob and kissed his head and said "that is just not fair! What would we do without our Jacob?" That is the literal fulfillment of Dr. King's vision. Not only do they walk together as brothers and sisters, but the fight together, tease each other and cause trouble together as brothers and sisters too.
I know that the world is not perfect, that there are still many forms of racism today. I know that even though the message MLK preached was a worthy one, the man himself struggled with his own demons. I know all this, but I still believe that the world is a better place today then it was. I still believe that my children are benefiting from all the people that came before them and saw a need for change and weren't afraid to stand up and do it. I hope that I am able to teach them to be those kinds of people too. I hope that if I see an opportunity to do the same, I will not be afraid to stand up and lend my time and energy to a cause that I believe in. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I still really do believe that one person can make a difference. I believe that the world in 40 years will be a better place for my grandkids then it is today. I have faith in human beings and their ability to do the right thing. History is full of times when humankind has back stepped a little bit. My own life is full of time when individuals have made me question if humans really are much better then animals. As far as the big picture goes, I am still a believer.
So, thank you to all that came before, and thank you to all that are trying right now to make a difference in this world. I may not agree with what you are fighting for, but I think that as long as our world has people in it that care enough to fight for something, we will end up leaving this place better then we found it. Today, that is an encouraging thought.