Last year, I committed to celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his birthday weekend because for years I was such a loser not doing anything to honor his amazing life’s journey. So this year, I decided to follow my 2016 commandments and attend South Holland’s annual Martin Luther King celebration.
To my pleasant surprise, from the beginning I was wrapped up in the sounds of two amazing choirs singing some of those songs we should all know but can’t remember all the words to… Lift every voice and sing, ‘til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty… lest our feet, stray from the… hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. Lest our hearts drunk… Yes, I tried, and kept up where I could. Believe me, I was feeling it!
Then came the keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Carolyn McKinstry, social activist, civil rights leader and a member of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where the infamous bombing took place killing four of her friends. I mean, wow! What an honor to be in the presence of a woman who as a young girl was a part of history that rocked our nation and forced people to confront evil head on.
I was mesmerized by her resolve at such a young age to commit her life to the struggle of social and racial justice. I have to admit that I was also a little envious that she was part of a great movement lead by Dr. King and who participated in marches and sit ins. I was teary-eyed and caught up in the nostalgia of what I imagined to be a purposeful past.
As she told her story about the number of children who were on the front lines of change, I became uncomfortably aware that very few children or young adults were in attendance. As a matter of fact, the room was sparse with the majority of attendees looking to be around 65 years old. “Where were the children,” I wondered?
Dr. McKinstry was a mere babe, barely out of elementary school when she became personally committed to the civil rights movement. She signed a pledge as given by Dr. King to follow nine tenants; nonviolent reconciliation and justice, to be courteous, to strive for healthy living, to follow directions and leadership, to refrain from poor behavior and to pray to be used by God. As a young woman she contemplated these things and decided to live by them.
I was saddened as I reflected on the reality that our generation of children know of Dr. King in a distant and obscure way. Maybe they see him as a great historical orator, the “I have a dream” man, or maybe they make some connection to a major urban street, boulevard or drive, or maybe still it’s a day off of school. I found myself sinking into the reality that Dr. King has become a dream, a ghost and figment of our past that only a few really grasp the significance of his journey.
And yet here we are at a time when racial injustice prevails, poverty abounds and job opportunities are negligible. Our kids don’t really have a connection to or understanding of their rich history that informs them of their power, their strength or their future. Before you get all #BlackLivesMatter on me, here me out. I am very thankful for the young people who are standing up and speaking, and marching and working on behalf of African-Americans to make known that brown skinned lives are worth the effort to be treated with dignity and respect.
But I also see a generation of youth who could care less. I’m sure this is no different during the civil rights era as not everyone was pro-Dr. King or pro-civil rights. Yet I still want to believe that at one time in our past, African-American youth were more engaged, more in the know, more respectful, proud and concerned about their future. And I also want to believe that our parents and grandparents held us accountable for our actions.
So as I sat there leaning in, my concern for our children grew. The fact that I didn’t see many young people was but one indication that if we don’t make insistent efforts to fully invest in our children, teaching them of their past, training them for the future and nurturing them with a belief in self, all that Dr. King fought to achieve would have been in vain.
How will we continue Dr. Kings legacy of investing in our children?
And so it goes…