Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How MLK made me explain what a check was

I've been on record in my life as an opponent of this holiday.  I had my reasons...my stupid reasons.

We have President's Day and Veteran's Day and all sorts of days which are primarily banking holidays and opportunities to look over sale ads.  Now, as a father I have to address these holidays.  I can't just let them pass by, because schools use these holidays to discuss important benchmarks in history.  I play a huge role in what my sons will understand about all of these subjects.

My older son, now in 2nd grade, knows about "the dream."  He understands how weird and irrational segregation and racial discrimination sound.  They are the tri-corn hat of social opinion...old and funny looking...even ridiculous.  Understanding this is a major win and I don't take it for granted.

But for us who get it...is there anything else to learn?  We have friends that are other races.  We recognize bigoted comments when we hear them and we're proud that we can be friendly to people who don't look like us.  I was really surprised when I listened to the whole speech.  There was way more I learned and still need to learn.

I sat down with my sons and we listened to the entire speech.  The dream, while magnificent and memorable, was such a small part of the speech.  What Dr. King spoke a great deal about was freedom.

Dr. King went back 100 years to point out that "the Negro still is not free." and then further back to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and drew attention to their "magnificent words" as a promise to our "Republic" of freedom for all men.  The language he chose, in modern context,  would no doubt cause The New York Times to wonder out loud if he was a secret member of the John Birch Society...wait I said modern....uh...Tea Party.  That's better. 

Dr. King said that the signatures at the bottom of these founding documents were like signing a promissory note that the country would provide the protection of these unalienable rights.  While black Americans were attempting to cash the check and finding out that the check wasn't any good...always hopeful, Dr. King declared that "We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."

Wow, a check.  I'm not completely sure my son has seen me write a check.  I had to explain to my 2nd grader what a check was...and that bad check amounted to a broken promise.  We went on further to discuss that in every generation someone tries to cash a freedom check only to find out there's nothing for them either.  

Now I'm sure to some of you this is old news.  Maybe you've given more thought to Dr. King's words than I have.  You'll have to pardon me though, I'm slowly growing into it and becoming more aware with each year.

There's a lot in this speech and I think next year we'll take a little time to discuss maybe the hardest part of the speech (for me anyway)...responding to injustice from the "high plane of dignity and discipline." 

Beyond the dream there are instructive words for anyone seeking justice.  There is advice that anyone seeking freedom can use.  Even if someday we completely stomp out bigotry and racial intolerance there will forever be some important takeaways from this wonderful speech. 

I will use the holiday as an excuse to talk about it every year.

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