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.
We have been practicing our skills this year at writing persuasive essays. At the end of the week, I instructed the kids to write their papers as a letter to the late Dr. King. I told them to introduce themselves and to explain to the great orator how his dream has not yet become a reality. Finally, they were to describe how they were going to work at making his dream actually come true.
Dear Dr. King...
“My teacher has been talking about you all week. You’ve been a great role model for me, and you have motivated my generation and others for the past 55 years, since your ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. But as an Asian 13-year-old boy, I have to tell you, you’re dream has not yet been fulfilled...”
“I wish I could talk to you...”
“People still have cold hearts and evil souls like the old days.”
“After a long time, your dream has still not come true. People are so slow. Some still are being racist to people like me - a Mexican boy. There are people who are still mean and hurt people who do not look like them.”
“We are still being mean to each other. All races are still not together and working together.”
“Your dream is like a video game. It’s still in development, but soon it will be released.”
“I am a 12-year-old Arabic kid living in 2018...Your dream of a fairly-treated world has not fully come true even though it’s been 55 years since your ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. We will try our best to change that in 55 more years so things will improve for the better.
“I am a Hispanic 12-year-old girl...Your dream gave my people courage and the voice to speak out. But it’s not just your dream anymore. It is so many others’!”
“You helped me personally by letting my people have a voice that the whole world can hear. As a Hispanic boy, it’s a big deal because my life could be different - mostly horrible.”
“My generation is going to use their voices just like you did and speak up for equality. I believe that we should all be treated equal because we are all made the same and are all HUMAN!”
“I am a 13-year-old Hispanic boy, and I would like to thank you because of what you did. If you never existed, I wouldn’t have the education that I have today. If you had never done what you did in your life, I wouldn’t even know how to write.”
“To make you proud, Dr. King, I will teach the generations after me to become united, not divided through our country.”
“I will try to make racism limited by telling people what others go through to make them see the light.”
“I am a seventh grade Hispanic girl. Thanks to your dream, I have rights that I probably wouldn’t have if you had not stood up and spoken for everyone. I personally think it is disappointing that your dream is not a reality. Your death means that many dreams were probably put on pause because those people could have been scared or not have the courage to stand up and speak up.”
“I am a 13-year-old multiracial girl. Even though I wasn’t born yet, your speech changed the course of my future and my life. I like your speech because it has changed many things including giving other races the chance to speak up.”
“Your speech is what allows me to hang out with my friends.”
“Thanks to you, I can go to a school that is color-blind.”
“I’m going to not be racist to anyone who is different because I can stand up, speak up, and be a role model so people can care about each other.”
“Without you, I would not have a voice and my life would be different right now,. I hate how your dream did not become reality because without your dream, Hispanics like me and other ethnicities will not have a voice or be treated with respect.”
“I will treat all people with respect because we don’t know what they have been through...”
“I’m hoping to make a difference, just like you did.”
“We have made several improvements, but your dream is still a dream. We have a lot to do to make it a reality, but it’s getting there. I will make it a reality by not making the same decisions people are making today.”
“I have never said a racial slur or been racist at all. That is something that will not ever change. For a better, peaceful world, my hope is to help people come together by being a friend. Dr. King, you have galvanized me to stand up for what I believe is fair.”
“I will make your dream a reality. I will be a teacher and teach about you so others can pass the dream on and maybe then it will become a reality.”
“My generation will do whatever it takes to make sure your dream can rise from its eternal slumber, and we can live as a peaceful world. We all are going to make sure to make you proud.”
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.