The Martin Luther King Day celebration at The San Francisco School has always been a powerful experience. We’ve had some noteworthy guests over the years—Melba Beals and Minniejean Brown-Trickey (two of the Little Rock 9), Clarence Jones (“I Have a Dream” speechwriter), Mary Morgan (wife of Dr. Spock, who was Dr. King’s running mate in a plan to run for President), Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir and more.
Each year, we dust off the old songs from the 60’s and the kids never fail to bring new life to them with their passion, enthusiasm and great singing—Free at Last, If I Had a Hammer, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Woke Up This Morning, One Little Step Toward Freedom, The Dream of Martin Luther King, We Shall Not Be Moved, Down By the Riverside, You Better Mind (music teachers, are you taking notes?) and of course, closing with We Shall Overcome. This year we added Imagine by John Lennon and Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan.
As I said, it’s always a powerful ceremony, but this year the meaning of Dr. King’s work carried new weight and import. We decided not to show his “I Have a Dream Speech” and accent the history of the Civil Rights movement, but bring it all to the new movement that is gathering forces right here, right now. Not to use Dr. King as an historic legacy, but as a springboard into the action our times deserve now. To begin to form the next generation of social activists, right here, right now. And watching these kids deliver their individual and group poems in the ceremony, I’d say we’re off to a great start. (One of the highlights was my daughter’s 5th grade class sharing their group “Letter to the President.” Hope to feature it soon as a guest blog).
We always judge this ceremony on the basis of the number of tears shed and yesterday was a waterfall from parents, teachers and even a few kids. The words in these songs carried so much more power than usual and spoke even deeper truths. It’s as if they were written with one unnamable man and his brainwashed supporters in mind:
”How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see?…”
“You goin’ around from door to door, talking ‘bout things that you really don’t know…”
“I wish you could know what it means to be me…”
“I’d sing out danger, I’d sing out a warnin’…”
And so the new ABC’s. Activism. Beauty. Compassion. The purpose of education, of learning to read and write, add and subtract, paint and sing and act, is to develop the capacity for genuine thought tied with care and kindness, to marry mind, body and heart on behalf of life and love and laughter. We don’t force children to march to our agenda, we invite them to think and then give them the tools to act. We don’t demand they create something beautiful, we give them skills, models and encouragement. We don’t yell at them to care and be kind, we show them that Golden Rule is real and they we all become our better selves when we feel known, cared for and loved, when we can learn to know others, care for them and love them.
Radical Islam fundamentalists are brainwashing children to hate the other and be rewarded in heaven. Radical Republicans are brainwashing children to hate the other and be rewarded with privilege. But you can’t brainwash children to love and care and be fully informed. Brainwashing is a “method of controlled systematic indoctrination based on repetition or confusion.” (Dictionary.com) Our mission is to reveal the beauty and intelligence and caring we all carry, not to hide the ugliness and lies and ignorance that the power-hungry purposefully mask.
Dear reader, amidst the shame of what is now our international disgrace, please know that 10-year old kids are gathering to be the change they want to see, even in the face of this country’s shameful attack on Dr. King’s work. It gives new hope and meaning to our closing song.