When I was younger, so much younger than today...I remembered loving that magical Monday in January, when, after having been back in school for two weeks after winter break, we were given a day off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I can honestly say that I don't remember my teachers saying much about it, and I certainly didn't spend that day reflecting on the work of Dr. King, but I sure do remember the day off. And now here I am, 35 years old and a teacher in a school that is not giving this day off, and I've listened to my students complain about having to do go to school when so many other students have the day off.
As I sit here grading papers for tomorrow (remember- it is a school day), I've thought about this one day, one national holiday to celebrate this man. And I can't help but feel like it's wrong. Now, before you scream and castigate me, allow me to explain. You see, the real meaning of this day seems clearer to me now than it ever has before. There are few figures in American history that I respect more than Dr. King, and for that matter figures like John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and the countless others of all races who gave so much in the fight for civil rights. But what I've come to respect most about Dr. King is that I truly believe he knew that while his work was important, his legacy was just as important, if not more so. I believe that Dr. King knew that the fight would be far from over when his time came, and that, while a man may die, an idea can live on forever. That is what MLK Day has come to mean for me.
It's not so much about a man, but an idea. An idea born of the passion that only comes from true conviction. The idea that the outside of a person means far less than the inside. That a person's soul is truly all that matters. That skin color, wealth, advantage, and a wide host of other items to a person that some might see fit to judge are insignificant to the fact that a person's mere existence entitles them to the right to be treated as equal. That our actions and our words are the only thing that can truly make a person inferior. That love means something more important than anything else. This is a conviction, and I believe that Dr. King embodied that conviction, allowed that passion to serve as his legacy. If you need a set-aside day to celebrate the man, fine. But celebrate his legacy, the meaning to his life, every day. Be love.
As I said, I teach. And we are entering a time period of, well, many things, but uncertainty is the only certainty. We stand, as a country, at the precipice of great choices, but none greater than the choice to open ourselves to love, or succumb ourselves to hate. And the choice we make will undoubtedly make it's way into our classrooms. Hate is easy, especially now. It seems like there is so much fear and anger, and, as Yoda made clear, that leads to the dark side. But it's this environment that has brought so much uncertainty into our students' hearts and minds. Everywhere around them loud voices feed anger, and it is easy to feel like that must be the right mindset. This is where we come in. We get the chance to work with and talk to these students every single day. We have the chance to show a student love and compassion, to engage with them in a civil dialogue, to introduce them to multiple perspectives. We have the chance to channel so much of what Dr. King stood for...or just be part of the problem.
As for me, I am excited to be at school tomorrow, as I am every day. I am excited to have the chance to love my kids.