K has been reminding me for the past week that Martin’s birthday is fast approaching and that we need to plan his festivities. Why does she feel such a kinship with him? Curious, I asked her today during lunch.
She swallowed a bite of her sandwich and thought for a minute. “I like him because he let black people and white people come together. And he would have been friends with Abraham Lincoln, who stopped slavery.”
We live in a diverse community, and K goes to a school where white students comprise less than half of the student population. One of K’s best buddies at school is a beautiful African-American boy, and every Friday after school, I find the two of them giggling through a game of chess at chess club.
And one of K’s oldest friends since infancy is a lovely African-American girl. K has never known a time when she wasn’t friends with kids who had wide varieties of skin color. As a preschooler, she cheerfully referred to herself as vanilla and some of her friends as chocolate.
Now a sophisticated first grader, K has picked up the terms Caucasian and African-American, although occasionally she uses the simpler words white and brown. There are times when her politically correct language has combined with the innocence of her age to create comically endearing results, such as after last year’s trip to Disney World.
Some of you may remember that I asked K after a recent visit to Disney Land which of the Disney princesses she liked best and she earnestly responded, “Well, I really like Tiana. She is African American. And also Pocahontas. She is Native American. But my favorite is Ariel. She’s Mermaid American.” I smiled at her and marveled at the sweetness of youth.
K and A have grown up knowing that skin color is nothing more than that. It is just skin color. It does not indicate who shall have and who shall not have. It does not determine who is able and who is unable. It does not declare who should gain access and who should be denied.
MLK Jr. Day is here once again, offering us a chance to celebrate acceptance and diversity. It heralds in the new year with old hopes, and it comes at a critical time for our country. We have made progress toward judging children by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, but there is more work to do. There is work to do in gaining acceptance for anyone who is “different.”
Jamie Lee Curtis has written a children’s book called Big Words for Little People. My favorite line in it is “Different is something to celebrate. Different is never something to hate.” If we teach our children to celebrate differences, we will create a culture where there are less incidences of bullying and taunting. Instead of being threatened by those who look or act differently, our children should be curious and open to learning about each other.
I asked K how she thinks we should celebrate MLK Jr. Day this year and she said, “Let’s have it be a better day than other days.”
Here’s to a better day.
A better day for all of us, regardless of our skin color or religion or gender. Here’s to a better day, not just for the promising young children, but for the people on the margins of society — the mentally ill, the poor, the sick and the aged. Here’s to a better day for foster children and their birthparents who are unable to care for them.
In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s hope that there are a string of better days ahead, guided by the knowledge that we are all created equal and we deserve equal rights. Here’s to better days filled with wholehearted acceptance, leading to a better life.