On Friday, I attended a local elementary school’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., assembly with my two small children, mother, and husband, who was playing trumpet for the event. The song “How I Love to Sing Your Name” has been running through my head ever since as I sift through the complex range of thoughts and emotions I have as I think about this Monday’s holiday, the ways we talk about and celebrate those who have worked for social justice, and how to do the daily work of living the dream.
The first thing I did today was to download the “How I Love to Sing Your Name” song and put it on repeat. Secondly, I pulled out one of the most beautiful books out there on MLK for young kids: Martin’s Big Words. I read the book to my 2-year-old daughter, and she nodded seriously as I read each page. And then she stood up on the wooden stepping stool we have in the kitchen and proceded to sing along: “Oh, Martin Luther King…”
But…as beautiful and important as these moments were, they are not the bulk of the work that needs to be done.
Just read the recent report titled 2011 Oregon Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity, and you’ll see that we still have far to go in terms of equity in our community. To get a summary of some of the missed opportunities for more equitable laws in Oregon to support communities of color, see the recent Oregonian article. You can also read the comments from more vocal readers and get a glimpse into the tension that some feel surrounding the issue of equity. I groaned to myself reading comments about how no group should expect “handouts” and how the system is actually equal for those who work hard enough. This is a popular narrative…and it is a loud one these days.
Just look at the book published by the White House purporting to detail the actions of national heroes. Browsing through the most recent edition of Rethinking Schools, there was a review of Barack Obama’s recent children’s book titled Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. While the book does bring in a diversity of national “heroes,” it minimizes their roles as social activists and instead highlights the easier ideas of love and harmony. And while love and harmony are beautiful things, it is the often contentious actions that many of these people (Helen Keller, Sitting Bull, etc.) took and the struggle that produced social change. This narrative, too, that we should talk about history in a much diluted manner and that the most famous social activists in our country’s history were merely encouraging hugging and holding hands as ways to change the systemic violence and racism against so many in our communities, is deeply problematic.
What am I trying to say here? That we need to educate ourselves and our families/friends. That we need to make our voices stronger and louder. That we need to live the dream each day, rather than just today.
This leads me to commend the work of Kate McPherson and so many others at Roosevelt who have worked on the Freedom Riders project. I’ve just started working with Kate as a partner in both of my Capstone courses and have been impressed with her level of commitment. Please read the recent article on Roosevelt and their Freedom Riders project, which gives voices to people in our community who have worked and are working against injustice. Here is the Freedom Rider’s website. Get involved in some of the support organizations contributing to this work and to showcasing the voices of those working for social change by clicking here.
Living the dream each day is about being humble, being self-aware, being open, and being flexible. It’s also about being bold and sometimes putting ourselves in situations where we don’t have the answers. Just like we cannot possibly teach about cultural competency in a single 4-credit class or about our history’s rich culture in a single Black History month, we cannot contribute to positive changes in our community on one holiday. We must live cultural competency, Black history, educational equity, and social justice every day in both small and big ways.
Easier said than done, of course. But it can be done. And it must be done. Dr. King would probably have a lot to say about the fact that students in our city are educated in unequal settings and with unequal resources. We should have a lot to say about this, too! For an easy starting point, thinking about checking out Stand for Children, Chalkboard Project, and Hands on Portland. And join in on the conversation.
What daily ways do you live the dream? What are little and big actions people can take to get more involved? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s brainstorm ways to make our voices louder, to educate more people (ourselves included), and to make change happen.