“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is a day to celebrate this amazing man of great courage and vision. I dedicate this blog posting to him.
These inspiring words of Dr. King hold great meaning to me. I grew up in the 60s and remember what a tumultuous time it was. I also remember watching the news of John F. Kennedy’s and Dr. King’s assassinations on TV and feeling scared and sad.
My childhood struggles were much different than the ones I have today. Right before I was to start kindergarten, my mother gathered up all the courage she could and decided to change a situation no woman (or man or child) should ever be subjected to. She loaded up our car with a few clothes and the three youngest of her five children. She allowed our two older siblings to stay, because they didn’t want to leave their life as they knew it. With this decision, she said goodbye to a lot of things for all of us….her husband (Our father, though flawed in many ways was a highly respected high school principal and deep down inside we knew he loved us.), their physical/emotional abusive relationship, and our middle-class life. With very little money, no job and no home, she sought refuge with our maternal grandparents in a town over two hours away.
This was a less than ideal situation. Within a year, we moved to four different towns. I sure learned what it meant to be the new kid in school! During this time, my mother met a man who would soon become our step-father. Big families were more common back then. Three half-brothers added more love and chaos to our lives. My mother was my hero. She found child-care during a time when there were few options for day care. Her work as an operator for the telephone company helped put food on our table. She modeled hard work and resourcefulness.
Our early schooling reflected the turmoils of society. My siblings and I experienced racial integration first-handedly. We were forced to transfer from our mostly all-white elementary school to a brand new one built down the road near a large low income-housing project. Starting in the 2nd grade, my classmates now included many African Americans. The principal paddled kids daily, sometimes on the cafeteria stage for all to witness, his terrible attempt to keep order. We ignored the uproar of adults and sought normalcy by learning, playing and my favorite…dancing together to Motown hits.
Rather than attend the established junior high school two blocks from our house, my siblings and I were among the handful of white kids who rode the bus from downtown to help integrate the newly built school about 30 minutes away. I saw upper-middle white kids struggle to build relationships with poor, black kids and vice versa. We found ourselves adjusting somewhere in the middle.
I will be forever grateful to my teachers who believed in and inspired me to be better in spite of my personal struggles. For example, my elementary music teacher and her husband often took my brother and me to the town’s philharmonic orchestra concerts with them. (They somehow knew my mother played the cello as a young woman and that she couldn’t provide these experiences for us.) I learned how to dress and behave at concerts because of them. My 6th grade teacher taught me to love math and allowed me to work independently from an advanced math book. I thank her for inspiring me to become a 6th grade math teacher and pass this passion on to my students.
My childhood experiences help me relate to students of all socioeconomic levels and colors. As a coordinating teacher for instructional technology, I help support a large federal grant that has been awarded to five of our district’s magnet schools with high free and reduced lunch rates. It makes me proud to work with teachers who want to help change and make a positive difference in the lives of students, many who are struggling academically, physically, emotionally, economically, and in other ways we may be unaware of.
Fifty-three years after his historic, “I Have a Dream”speech and forty-eight years after his death, the struggle for equality continues to be real. Let’s all strive to help each other be better and move Dr. King’s ideals forward.