Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
This year I was committed. I did not want to romanticize Martin Luther King, Jr. but instead try to put his work into a larger context that kids could understand and grow from. I wanted to make a connection from the past, linking it to today's world, in order to recognize that this is not something that happened in the past and is now over. We're still very much in the midst of helping our Black brothers and sisters fight for equality today. It took two days to build the story, but here's how it went.
I introduced and read the book, Race Cars by Jenny Devenny.
It was recommended to me by my former long-time teaching partner, and 2nd grade diversity class founder, Gwen Deitrick. It tells the story of two race cars, one is black and they call him Chase, and other is white and his name is Ace. The two are best friends and love more than anything to compete together in the town's annual race. The reader discovers that the all-white race committee, has actually rigged the race. The white cars always win. Along the way, Chase faces unusual challenges, like seeing signs that tell him to detour from the race and drive into the magical forest where the road twists and turns designed to slow him down. Or, having to stop at a new sign at the top of the mountain. Ace is blissfully unaware of the detours that his friend must take, and often happily comes out on top. He wonders why Chase isn't competing better since he's such an amazing race car. Ace finally wakes up to the truth when he finds himself curious about the magical forest and ends up getting lost. The race committee actually sends Chase, who they know in their hearts to be the fastest car, to find and rescue Ace. This awakens Chase to the reality of his best friend's experience and how difficult it has been for him! By becoming an ally he validates Chase's experience and helps to facilitate change instead of being a complicit race member.
I used this story to teach about white privilege and how we can become allies for our Black brothers and sisters just like Ace did for Chase. I also planted the seed that not so long ago, there were laws in our country that segregated Black people and White people.
I built onto the lesson of white privilege. We talked about how there were laws in our country that rigged the system to support white families and divided citizens by skin color. Just like Ace was given privileges in the race, and Chase was given detours, such was the life in the United States. It was called segregation. The civil rights movement was born out of separateness and inequality, striving to teach equality and unity for all human beings.
I used the book, A Kid's Guide to African American History as my guide.
Here are some important points that I covered:
The United States Constitution says that every person in the United States should be treated equally. Do you think this is true today? How do you know?
Civil rights - people spoke out agains the unfair and poor treatment of Black people. They were not being treated equally all over the United States even though the constitution says they should be. Some examples, Black children were not allowed to go to the same schools as White children. They were not able to sit at the same table as White people in a restaurant. They were supposed to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats to White people. The joining together of Black people and others who believed in equal rights was called, The civil rights movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights leader who fought for change using a method called, nonviolence. He used Mahatma Gandhi as an example of how to protest nonviolently. He believed that love was stronger than hate.
A Civil Rights Organization called, The Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) encouraged its members to carry a card in their pockets where they had written their commitment to practice nonviolence. The children were given an opportunity to make their own card.
Rosa Parks was introduced as another civil rights leader and I read a little bit about her story. I was sure to add that this wasn't the first time Rosa Parks fought for change.
Ruby Bridges - was another civil rights leader who endured mobs of hateful, racist community members when she was trying to exercise her right to go to an integrated elementary school. I introduced a signed copy of a book about Ruby Bridges, and gave the children the opportunity to touch her actual signature.
At the end of the lesson I introduced a fan project. In the south, the weather was often hot, and when people gathered together in civil rights meetings about social change, they needed a fan to cool off. People often made fans with positive social change messages on the front. For example, "We Shall Overcome!" The children were able to color and assemble their own fan. The children decorated a fan with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the front. Some children even added more quotes to their fans.
Conclusion Brainstorm: How can we carry MLK's work into today's world? How do we become allies in the BLM movement?