Contributor: Susan Park, Kindergarten Teacher at Community Roots
As a diverse, inclusive, and culturally responsive school, we feel that it is important that conversations about powerful leaders, advocates, and activists of color are not limited to the month of February, or confined to only honoring Dr. Martin Luther King's life's work and beliefs at one time during the school year. However, as our students do not attend school on Dr. King's birthday, we do find it important to acknowledge, celebrate, and talk about his life, beginning in Kindergarten.
Last week I sat with my Kindergarten class, and we read a book entitled: Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, and we watched a clip about his life from BrainPop Jr. The following is the email we sent to our families, sharing with them the conversations we had with their children, and encouraging them to continue these conversations at home. You will notice in the language of the email we use words like "peach" and "chocolate". These are words that the students themselves have used to self-identify when we talked extensively about skin tone in one of our earlier units.
Today, we talked about why we don't have school on Monday and about Dr. Martin Luther King. We talked about how back in time, but also still today, there are some people who think that having white or peach skin is the best - some people believed that if you have peach/white skin, you are the prettiest, smartest and "bestest". Then we asked the students, "What do you think about that?". Our whole class quickly responded with, "That's mean!" and "That's not true!" and "Everyone is beautiful and everyone should feel honored." And we agreed that you have to get to know someone by spending time with them, not by just looking at how they look on the outside.
The book brought up some of the laws that were unfair back then - these laws gave freedom and choice to those with peach/white skin but not to others who looked different than them. Martin Luther King Jr. worked hard, along with other leaders, to change those laws (rules) with his powerful words and leadership. he emphasized love and not hate to make these changes. Many people who had chocolate skin knew this wasn't OK and joined together to make change. And some people who had peach skin, were allies, and joined in the "fight" to make changes. Children, also were brave and marched alongside the grown-ups, even though they got yelled at and some would even get hurt. The end of the book does talk about how MLK died and we talked about how sometimes being so fearful can lead people to such hate. But many continued to honor his life and his work by continuing to "fight" until finally, some of the laws did change.
Lastly, we touched on how we still have laws and practices that are unfair today (some based on skin color or gender, as examples). And some people still believe that white/peach skin are the best. We all can honor Dr. King and his work by being brave and being an ally and supporting others who are being treated unkindly and unfairly. Dr. King and all his supporters were for ALL kinds of people, and we can live and act with that belief as well.
The conversation that followed was very thoughtful and powerful. We encourage you to carry this talk to your table today at home and find one big or small way to honor Dr. King on Monday.
If you have any questions, our door is always open.