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No Limits to What We Can Do

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Most of my current students were born in 2006, thirty-eight years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Their knowledge of the Civil Rights leader was broadened this week as they moved through their reading, writing and social studies classes.

I am the oldest member of my grade level team. I was about the age my kids are now when King was shot, so I was able to give them a unique perspective of that era of our country's history. I recalled for them my listening to Walter Cronkite announcing the assassination on the evening of April 4, 1968. The kids looked at me in awe, and many asked, "You were alive then?"

How fast time has passed. How old I suddenly feel.

I shared footage of Dr. King and his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. But I also shared footage of his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech as well. My kids were not familiar with this speech, his final public words, spoken the evening before his death.

"Somewhere I read," King proclaimed, "of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is to protest for right."

I asked the kids to tell me just exactly where he had read those words. Their answers included the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible.

Wonderful discourse ensued among the ten-year-old Americans gathered in each of my four classes. They made connections to their own lives and to the events in their world today. Their initial understanding of the historical and political importance of the sixties was limited. But their fears and passion for justice were very clear.

Nearly 95% of my students are Mexican-Americans. I reminded them that the second part of that hyphenated label signifies that they are indeed legal citizens of this country – Americans - and, as such, they are entitled to every one of those rights that Dr. King mentioned. Furthermore, I reminded them that King had worked hard to ensure freedom for all people and that it was up to all who have succeeded him to keep that mission alive and to stand up throughout their lives in defense of the rights they are guaranteed.

After reading and discussing excerpts of King's "I Have a Dream" speech, I told the children that I wanted them to write their own "Dream" speech. Despite the fact that I have 120 papers to read every time I assign a writing prompt, I really love hearing the voices of my kids through their written word. For this particular assignment, I instructed the students to write from the heart, to not worry so much about making their paper perfect, to simply put down on paper what they were feeling at the moment.   I was not disappointed.

Perhaps my favorite paper was from a boy who has turned in very little all year. The work he does submit is extremely difficult to decipher. But, for this paper, he worked earnestly and was one of the first to arrive at my desk demanding, “Read it, Mr. Ramsey! Read my paper!”

I was pleasantly surprised that he had completed this assignment and, although almost every single word was spelled incorrectly, his finished product impacted me greatly. Here is a clear translation of his words:

"One day I hope that racism will stop and people will start being more kind. I have a dream that we will follow the path of greatness and won't follow the path of danger. Now there will be a time in America that hate will win, but if you pray and stop fighting, then you will see America in a new way with people that don't have hate, but love."

All kids - even those who never seem to achieve the so-called standards that we, as educators, set for them - have great ideas in their heads and great love in their hearts. Indeed, all have a dream.

Here are but a few of those dreams...

"I have a dream to see a world better than how it was today."

"I have a dream that one day I'll live in a country of love."

"I have a dream of people not being judged by their race or where they come from. I do not want segregation. I do not want people screaming at each other."

"I have a dream where everyone can live in a free world. I have a dream where everyone has opportunities. I have a dream where people won't be judged by their race and religion. I have a dream where people are treated fairly."

"This is America, and in this nation we have freedom - the freedom to meet new people and new friends - not be separated from other people against their will...We shall not judge WHO we are, but judge HOW GOOD we are."

"I have a dream that the new President can be friendly to Mexicans...I have a dream of Mexicans hanging out with the President...They could be friends."

"I have a dream that one day the homeless will have affordable homes with comfort, safety and love. We need more food so the hungry children will never have less food on their plate, and they will have a full belly."

"I have a dream of people following the law...only the good laws, not the bad ones."

"I want my future kids to be able to go to school and not be worried that they are going to get made fun of."

"I have a dream that one day when I grow up, I'll be a teacher and help the students learn. I won't care what color their skin is."

"I have a dream that the world will be peaceful and will be together as one to stop war and violence, where everyone will be kind to each other...but it is just a dream."

"I have a dream that I'm able to speak any language in public places. I have a dream that I can live in a peaceful world with no wall, no cartels, no abuse to people or animals, no hateful words."

"I have a dream that our country will be a good one. That there is no more racism. That no one is considered "illegal." That our president is a good president. That we, as any person - black, white, Mexican, Asian, and all others - have the right to do anything in this life. Anything. No Limits to What We Can Do."

Dr. King would be proud.

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2017.

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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in five Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Friday, 18 August 2017