It was a cold day in January. I can recall the rich voices of a full concert choir singing at Powell Symphony Hall. The marvelous sound filled the space and captured the audience. Looking back on that moment, it was reminiscent of the voices that led the civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
My family would attend this concert again the following year in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Outside of this annual event, I would learn about King and other leaders of the movement in elementary school. I attended a predominantly Black private school that afforded me the opportunity to learn about my history in greater detail. The concept of fighting for civil and basic human rights would be difficult to process as a young child. It was even harder to digest the hate and violence many of those on the frontlines had to endure.
As I reflect on my first encounters with the images and sounds of the civil rights movement, I am grateful that I was exposed to this part of my history. Now, having lived a little life myself, I can truly appreciate the level of commitment to the cause and sacrifice made by civil rights leaders.
Many of the words spoken in King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech have yet to be realized. As many elders would say, we have come a long way, but we certainly have a long way to go in terms of upholding human rights for all people.
It can be overwhelming to think about how we can continue to push the needle forward in our everyday lives. We look at the great leaders and think that they must possess some kind of superpower that we do not have access to. But when I look at my son and his development, I am reminded that it’s the little actions that can create lasting change.
As King’s words live on, there are a few concepts that I hope to pass along to my beautiful Black boy:
Always lead with love.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”- Dr. King
I work to be gentle with my son, even when correcting him. As parents, we all have moments that cause us to lose our cool. My goal is to admit when I am wrong and to apologize to my son when I could be more understanding and patient.
Focus on the content of your character.
“Intelligence plus character— that is the goal of true education.”- Dr. King
I want my son to value his education, both in and out of the classroom. I will share with him the beauty and pain of his heritage and the history of other ethnicities. Most of all, I will encourage him to move with integrity and do what is right at all times.
Never forget the importance of advocacy.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”- Dr. King
This one can be tricky as it can be a challenge to speak up about simple things, let alone societal issues. However, I plan to teach my son that his voice is as important as anyone else’s and that how he feels matters. That self-advocacy will hopefully give him the courage to speak up, for himself and others, even when I’m not around.
In raising a toddler, it’s my actions, not so much my words, that will help these concepts come alive for my son. I can only hope that my intentions and my actions make a positive impact on my son. Our commitment to keeping the dream of equality alive will positively impact our homes, schools, and generations to come.