Saturday, January 17, 2015

The MLK of Human Kindness

Though I never met her, I am proud to say that Coretta Scott King and I went to the same college— Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Amongst other things, she was responsible for helping make Martin Luther King Day a national holiday. And that means that the kids and teachers at my school have had a reason to look anew at the message from that remarkable man and all the other brave folks who gathered to change the world. Having just come from the movie Selma, my admiration for all those people and the work they did runs deep. I like to think I have the courage to speak out against injustice, to speak on behalf of children and arts and other marginalized people and things. But I am a fool. My courage is the size of a pebble compared to the mountain of bravery history required of these people. And truth be told, I’m not anxious to be put in a life-and-death situation that tests my conviction. Who would be?

But change and conviction and bravery comes in all sizes and shapes. At a recent staff meeting, I read out loud a letter from an alum testifying how our annual school Martin Luther King ceremony still echoed on in him and helped shape him into the caring and concerned citizen he has become. I've always felt moved by the event, but it is heartening to know that some students do also.

Back in 1991, I crafted a ceremonial script for the Macmillan McGraw/Hill textbook Share the Music. It was essentially a group of great songs connected by text. We used it for many years until it started to feel a bit wooden and then we left alone for a little while. This year, I revised it and brought it back, with select 8th graders reading the words and the whole elementary and middle school singing the songs. It makes the most sense if you know the songs. And if you don’t, why, never too late to learn them! Should it be of interest to anyone—especially music teachers— I include it below:


SONG: One Little Step Toward Freedom

Tell the truth. That’s what our parents and teachers tell us. But almost 240 years ago, this   
country was created and every American was promised “Life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.” But it was a lie. Native Americans, African slaves, women and others were not
given the rights they were promised. It was a long, slow journey trying to close the gap
between the dream and the reality. By the 1960’s, many could still say “America never was
America to me.” But now their numbers and determination had grown. They joined together
to insist on their Civil Rights.  There was no turning back now.
SONG: Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round

On August 28, 1963, 200,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
to tell the Government to deliver what they promised all those years ago. There were
thousands of people working side by side, people of all ages, colors, religions, speaking out
courageously and singing for what they believed in—justice, freedom and love.

SONG: If I Had a Hammer

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an inspired leader in this movement, who spoke not only with words, 
but with his actions and living example. That day he delivered a speech that will long be remembered 
in the minds and hearts of Americans— I Have a Dream. He said:

 " I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation 
         where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content
         of their character. I have a dream today."

SONG: The Dream of Martin Luther King

His dream was so many people’s dream. What people were asking for was so simple. To live free 
without chains. To be able to share the love in their heart. To give what they’re longing to give, to 
live what they’re longing to live. To soar like a bird in the sky with no one trying to hold them back. 
Is that so much to ask?

SONG: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free

(Show video of MLK speech)

SONG: Free at Last

If Martin Luther King was alive today, I believe he would be so happy to see some of his dream 
come to life. But as recent events remind us, we are still far from the full justice, freedom and love 
we all deserve. We come together on this day to renew our commitment to this work, in all ways 
small and big. We can do it! We can overcome greed and hate and ignorance, but not
without hard  work. Let’s bring the dream closer and stop talking about some wonderful time
far in the future. Let us overcome today. Please stand and join us in song.

 SONG: We Shall Overcome

PS They did and we will.

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