Today's my daddy's birthday. He shares his exact date of birth with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My dad is eating his 83rd cake today. Martin would be 83, too -- in a perfect world, but we're here on Earth. Both men, daddy + Martin, worked for the betterment of people, all people. Both had a pulpit, a platform to speak to the gathered crowd. Both shared dreams of a better world for each inhabitant.
I grew up in Indiana. I started elementary school in Batesville, IN. [I can see in my blog-analytics that I have occasional readers here from Malaysia, South Africa, Chile, Australia and the like. Indiana is in the mid-west. Batesville is a very small town. Back when I was in first grade it was a mecca for the area only because it had a public swimming pool, but trust me -- in the grand scheme of America it's pretty small potatoes.] That's how I grew up. Amid an over-whelmingly homogeneous group of agricultural folks, folks who looked just like me.
|Kindergarten Debbie w bangs|
We moved from Batesville when I was poised to start fifth grade. We moved to the BIG city of South Bend, Indiana -- home of Notre Dame University. We arrived round about 1967. America was broiling with change and movements. We moved to da 'west side.' I can distinctly remember our arrival to the big city being immediately punctuated with gatherings of fellow clergy families and church goers having pot-lucks together, sharing meals, we kiddos playing charades under my mom's guidance....... all in an effort of church-going inter-racial interaction to instill a sense of unity. To me, it was as though we had landed on a foreign planet, no longer did everyone look just like me, but dad insisted.
That was the era of singing, "Kum ba yah."
Those pot-luck meals were a cultural awakening. On many levels. There were people of every shade and hue. Every gradient between black and white. This. was. a. first. It's one thing to sing "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world" in Batesville's Vacation Bible School -- where everyone was a shade of white: porcelain white, whiter-white and tanned white..... it's quite another thing to break cornbread and sing together -- with so many skin tones holding hands gathered round the table.
Time after time we went. Dad insisted. West-side unity. Eatin' and prayin' and playin'.
Kum ba yah. Ebony and ivory.
|Artwork from Gator Run Elementary FL|
That rag-tag group, from diverse churches, ended up "marching" together -- in unity. Our family was suddenly swept into what would be labeled the civil rights movement. From cornbread and casseroles to marching the west-side streets toward downtown. Dad insisted. I remember being scared. I remember some taunts from the sidelines, but mostly I remember staying very close to my family and our new friends as we walked, as we marched. Staying close to dad.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could report how those potlucks transformed South Bend and made for an oasis of acceptance and equality? In truth I entered Washington High School on the west-side as a freshman and that spring our campus was over-run with actual race riots, the hostility had grown over heated between the rainbow-hues. The longest corridor of lockers through the building had become a gauntlet for the stand-off. A tautly horrid scene from our own version of "West Side Story" where the toughs of one color lined the lockers and faced down the toughs of the other -- every morning before the first bell. Growing in numbers. Seething hostility in utter silence. Daily escalating tensions. Mounting animosity awaiting a spark.
Soon those hallway corridors were complete with helmeted police officers with dogs and mace. By Friday I sat locked into Mr. Warren's Advanced Algebra classroom listening to the eruptions on the other side of the door. We were locked in for our own protection. That would have been a fast-forward to the spring of 1972.
Dr. King had already perished well before that time. What had been learned by that point in history? How long would it take to 'act' the lesson of our Bible-school song? All I know is that I wanted to stay home from school, but Dad insisted. I was one of four or five to show up for '2XY = Z' that morning. Few other parents felt the same way apparently? Mr. Warren actually brought a photo album of his wedding pictures to share -- as he didn't anticipate teaching anything about equations that volatile spring day.
I had been voted to represent my fellow freshman as a class officer. As a 'leader' I was automatically part of a small group, think-tank retreat on sensitivity and diversity that took place off at a city park, during the days the city our closed school in the hopes of calm returning. All in an effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. That gave me a chance to see hostility up close and personal, but under professional guidance I also participated in discussions and exercises that led to actual conversation, interaction and growth. Somehow we finished that school year -- with police in their flack jackets and billy clubs ready, learning our algebra and biology. Shoulder to shoulder.
Red and yellow, black and white. Precious.
****I've been thinking a lot over the last couple of days about the role of parents in the teaching of acceptance and diversity to their children. I had a lovely cyber-chat with Crystal as she wrote her blog article on this very topic for our collaborative blog PreK + K Sharing last week. Click right here to see her many suggested resources suitable for the classroom.
One of my favorite MLK quotes is this one.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
My dad is the son of an Indiana farmer, for whom hard physical labor was how daily bread was earned. My dad has always demonstrated deep respect for every street sweeper in his midst. He shares a kinship with the honest worker. We didn't grow up among the Beethovens and the Shakespeares. I learned that sense of respect at his elbow at a very young age. I do believe that all the hosts of heaven and earth pause and say, these men have dreamt dreams and did their jobs well.
Happy birthday, daddy!! Happy birthday Martin!!
++++Be sure you come back tomorrow on the National Observation of Dr. Martin's contribution.
I have some great pictures to share. ++++