Adriane Frazier, who has worked with Students at the Center as a high school student, college intern, and staff member, wrote this essay when she was a junior at McDonogh 35 in our SAC writing class. It is one of many essays by former students that we still study. We hope you appreciate it, as our current students do, on this Martin Luther King Day.
Martin Luther King Jr.: Remember, Celebrate, Emulate
I remember being in second grade at Patch Elementary in Stuttgart, Germany. Ms. Thompson began the class by explaining that it was Black History month. Clearing her throat, she started to tell a story about a civil rights activist. She said his name was Martin Luther King Jr. She selected me to read aloud a speech that he had written entitled “I Have a Dream.”
The words didn’t really resonate. How could they? I had spent the majority of my childhood in Europe and had no connection to the Jim Crow south. Sure I was only one of five African Americans in my class, and Ms. Thompson was the only black teacher at my school, but the closest I had ever gotten to any type of “Movement” was putting up yellow ribbons in hope of peace during Desert Storm/Shield. I witnessed families like my own being torn apart by war, unaware that only a few decades earlier families in the South had experienced similar hardships due to racism.
Until recently I was never able to make a connection between my own life and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I had studied King’s views on integration and equality, but I was never taught that King lived during a time of war or that he took a stand against the U. S. involvement in Vietnam, even though I could identify with that. Many of the organizations with which King was associated discouraged him from taking public positions on foreign affairs. King spoke openly about his disdain saying, “The Negro must not allow himself to become a victim of the self-serving philosophy of those who manufacture war that the survival of the world is the white man’s business alone.” Following his anti-war declaration, King was abandoned and consequently labeled a threat by some people who once supported him.
To truly celebrate Dr. King’s legacy we must acknowledge both his popular and unpopular decisions and commemorate his life through our own fights for social justice. I know from experience how easy it is to be blinded by one’s own good fortunes. It wasn’t until I became actively involved with the impoverished community surrounding my inner-city school that my eyes were opened. When I recognized the systemic root of my people’s condition, I became angry and saw the need for change.
Realizing the need for change and actually taking action are quite different. Here is where we must emulate Dr. King by giving our time, energy, knowledge and, in his case, our lives for the benefit of the whole.
In an effort to positively affect my community, I volunteer at a school that has been labeled “academically unacceptable.” I teach radio production to eighth graders. We discuss oppression, exploitation and stereotypes and use the understanding of these concepts to build foundations for the social commentaries the students write. Now I can give these kids what I was deprived of in second grade: knowledge of the social injustices that cripple us and encouragement to challenge the system.
“How long will prejudice blind the visions of men? How long? Not long! Because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long! Because you shall reap what you sow.” Today King’s words ring more true to me than ever.