Most of my seventh graders know who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and most have heard at least portions of his “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963. Most know that he fought for the civil rights of African Americans. Most rejoice in the fact that they have no school on the man’s birthday in January.
However, most of my kids do not know much about the Civil Rights movement or any of the other events of the past century. My college students are not much better.
So this year, I took two weeks to delve into this topic. We learned of King - his life story, his ability to speak and to write and to lead change. We analyzed the “dream” speech and also his final “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. That led us to a discussion of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy who spoke to a group of mourners on the night of King’s assassination. That led us to the story of Kennedy’s presidential campaign and his own assassination immediately after thanking supporters for his California primary win. And this led us to an emotional story of Juan Romero, the 17-year-old Hispanic busboy who held Kennedy’s bleeding head from the cold floor of the reception room as pandemonium erupted all around him.
My school’s population is primarily Hispanic, but other groups are represented as well - Caucasian, African American, Arabic-American, Asian-American - they’re all Americans. Here in the twenty-first century, many are a mixture of two or more races.
I used to say that, as I look out on my classes, I don’t see color, but that is not true. I see the diversity before me, but it doesn’t affect how I see or treat the kids before me. To me, they’re just kids.