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Explaining Martin Luther King to a Six Year Old


Last night, before my six year old son went to bed he said to me, “Happy Martin Luther King day tomorrow dad.”  I said, “Same to you Big Guy. By the way, do you know who Martin Luther King was?” knowing that he was asking me because he knew that this was the reason he had no school the next day. He said, “Was he a king?”  I said no and tried to explain to my six year old, briefly who Martin Luther King was and why we have a holiday for him.  Leaving the room I knew that I had done an incredibly inadequate job of describing this man whose life was so important to this country, that we celebrate his birthday every year.  I told him before I hugged him goodnight that maybe we could find a book on Martin Luther King and learn more about him.  That night I thought about how I could describe to my six year who this man was and what he accomplished.  I thought how difficult it must be for a little boy who is growing up in a world where it is perfectly normal for a black man to be our president to be able to understand that at one time black people and white people went to different schools, couldn’t drink from the same drinking fountains, couldn’t be on professional sports teams together, where black people had to sit in the back of buses, and where it was unheard of for people of different races to date each other.  How do I explain to him the civil rights movement, Brown vs. Board of Education, Emmet Till, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, the march from Selma, and the Voting Rights Act?  How do I explain slavery and the inhuman way black people in this country were treated simply because of their race. How to I explain these things to a boy who does not see the color of a persons skin, and does not see it as amazing that a black man is our president because to him he is simply a man.  And then I realized I don’t have to because in a way I already have.  I do not need to explain these things but instead lead by example.  The details he will learn in time, but it is our job to make the dream of Martin Luther King a reality by showing our children that people are not defined by there race, there religion, or their age, by their sex or sexual preference, by their abilities or lack there of, and that no man or women is better then any other. It is our job to teach our children to celebrate the differences among people and that anyone with enough will and determination can be anything they want to in this country. It is our job, through example to teach our children the words that Martin Luther King spoke in his “I have a Dream” speech that, “…one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’” It’s our job to teach our children the same dream that King had for his own children when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children we will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  This is what my father taught me and he taught me these things through example.  My father never specifically told me not to use the “N” word or any other derogatory term for any person, but in 75 years I never heard him use them himself.  My father never specifically told me to treat all people equally, but that was the example he always set for me.  My father never specifically told me of Martin Luther Kings dream, but through his actions, he lived up to them, and that is how I will teach my children, through example, through my actions, and if I do my job, if I teach my children well, the dream that Martin Luther King started will live on through them.  That is my dream.







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