I write the classwork on an illuminated Elmo screen with a touch pad pen changing colors with a gentle tap of its tip. I gleefully switch it up all day going from black to brown to purple to red and blue. I debut pink too. I remember how fun elementary school was for me and now here I am in this nearly chalkless classroom– a substitute teacher playing with the cool pen while the second graders use whittled pencils, borrowed pencils, Crayola Twistables, or markers they pull out from their plastic cases, zipper pouches or messy desks. It’s only the second or third time these 8-year-olds have been presented with Martin Luther King Jr. information in a public school setting, so they have questions about where he was from, how old he was, etc. I am thrilled that there is interest!
A sweatshirt clad boy offers a comment from a story remembered. “They used to make some people sit in the back of the bus.” I thank him for his astute contribution to our discussion on discrimination and segregation in which I use the words “not nice” several times to describe racist people. I forge ahead and read aloud a scholastic newspaper highlighting Dr. King and an illustrated easy-reader account of his childhood; all of which I put up on the big screen. I stop to check for comprehension.
“He was from Birmingham, Alabama. Has anyone heard of Alabama?” Little Californian noses crinkle. “How about Texas?”
My quick geography lesson prevails so I can move on. “Martin Luther was a man who knew it was wrong to treat people differently based on the color of their skin. He knew it just wasn’t right,” I say brushing my peachy left forearm looking over all the various shades of skin in the room. Earlier a couple of girls with dark hair and matching eyes asked me if they could touch my “pretty hair,” and after I obliged they oohed and ahhed that it was so soft. I returned the compliment, “I like your hair too,” and patted their heads.
So it is with apricot skin and verifiably soft blonde hair, that I actually try to embody Dr. King’s spirit by raising my right hand to heaven in front of the class. In a falsetto voice I proclaim, “I have a dream… that one day we will all live in a nation where we’ll not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.” These famous words sweep over me rendering me euphoric really, so I exuberantly repeat this paraphrased portion of his speech again hoping to inspire in a small measure like Martin Luther did on a grand scale nearly fifty years ago in Washington, D. C.. Yes, I’m inspired and I think the class is now ready for the next assignment.
“Use your crayons and imagination to finish the thought bubble on your page ‘I have a dream…'”
Someone asks me to how to spell ‘President’ because that is her dream… to become the President of the United States. Others want to be teachers and I commend them for wanting to teach generations of people just like Martin Luther did. After giving the last sad bit of information to the class that someone killed Martin Luther in 1968 there is an immediate response.
“Who killed him?!” they demand in unison.
“I don’t think I know. Remembering a killer’s name is not as important as remembering Martin Luther King’s good name.” I skirt around my lack of knowledge with a moral lesson. Way to go, “Teach.”
Then the boy who I moved closer to the front of the room because he was not paying attention after lunch wants to know how to spell ‘killing.’ In green crayon he complets his thought bubble. “I have a dream…there will be no more killing.” Now that’s a bubble worth protecting I want to say, but don’t.
What would you write in your thought bubble? Writing in crayon might help you remember your childhood dreams. Go ahead, smell a crayon and then write. Green works as well as purple, as magenta, or dandelion…a dream is a dream no matter what color.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Speeches Still Hold Significance Today (VIDEO) (huffingtonpost.com)
- 17 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes You Never Hear (neatorama.com)
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Of Economic Equality Still Not A Reality (habariganiamerica.com)