Our Family Makes MLK Day a Day On, Instead of a Day Off

Unsplash / Suzy Brooks

As a white mother, I believe it’s important to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day something that our family celebrates. If I don’t, my kids will only naively live with our privilege instead of understanding it. In our district (as many across the US), my kids don’t have school on MLK Day. But instead of making it a day where we lounge around, I make it a point that we learn more about Dr. King and celebrate his life.

When the kids were younger, I tried to find educational tools about MLK. I looked for as many age-appropriate resources as I could, like books and YouTube videos, but it wasn’t an easy discussion because I wasn’t sure how to talk about how his life ended with my children. I chose to just be straightforward and honest – there was no other way around it, and I wanted them to understand the gravity of what he fought for. I found that they not only appreciated my honesty, but understood the importance of his life. It’s vital to me that my children learn the truth about our nation’s history and not to sugarcoat anything, regardless of their age, because I think it better prepares them to inhabit the world and understand their privilege. So, in our house, we make it a point to make MLK Day a day on instead of a day off.

Now that the kids are a little older, it’s much easier to take them out into the community with me to learn and celebrate MLK Day – and they actually understand it. We always go to the library, which hosts a story time to read books about MLK. My kids love sitting with other children and listening to diverse stories and histories they’ve never heard before. Then, we walk next door to the art institute, where they make a craft inspired by the life of MLK. These crafts are typically centred on love, peace, and hope. Last year, for example, they made peace doves out of white construction paper – they were emblematic of a promise the kids made that they would try to walk in the footsteps of MLK and espouse his beliefs in tolerance and hope. All the kids signed birds and placed it onto a giant wall together, celebrating what MLK stood for.

But beside the fun activities, I believe that as a white mother, it is my duty to emphasise the importance of black historical figures like Dr. King to my white children. My kids could travel through life only getting this information from school – but that’s not enough. My kids must open their eyes and keep them open. They must understand why some of their classmates’ lives are inherently more difficult than ours just because of the colour of their skin. Further, they must understand how some of their peers have to fight, and fight hard, for things we take for granted daily. They’ll be able to do what they want, go where they want, wear what they want, without facing fear and judgement from others. And when I explain this to my kids, they become angry. And I’m glad. They should get angry about injustice. My only hope is that these lessons and the anger that stems from the enlightenment about injustice fuel my children to action, and encourages them to always do the just thing as they get older. And I hope that by reinforcing the importance of MLK Day, they’ll be better equipped to live empathetic lives towards all people.

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