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On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021, A Look To Our Future

From preschool to high school, students in America are experiencing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2021 with an entirely new world view based on the events of the past 12 months. Their teachers, as Education Week reported, serve as the nation’s first responders to world-historical developments. Their schools are live-time labs for inquiry, dialogue and discovery, now even more so. For students, then, as they reflect on the courage and wisdom of one of America’s greatest leaders, what inspiration can they find this year that will carry them forward with renewed hope and strength?

Martin Luther King, Jr. had many mentors in his life, from his mother and father to a wide range of men and women working in education, civil rights and faith communities. And today every adult can look at the role they can play in mentoring the next generation. Let’s start with what emerging leaders learn from their families.

Learning as a Family Tradition

Toya Stewart Downey, Executive Director of Strategic Communications, Equity and Inclusion for Robbinsdale Area Schools, recalls how her parents celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day when she was growing up. “We marched and attended rallies at the Minnesota capitol,” she remembers. “My parents had a vinyl LP of King’s ‘I Have A Dream Speech,’ and we would listen to that. We got a cake every year for Martin Luther King’s birthday. With my son, we traditionally have a small circle of friends over and talk with our kids about what they know about MLK and how they can be of service to their communities. This year we’re not doing that because of COVID-19, but we’ll have that discussion as a family.”

Schools Ready for Dialogue

Dr. Brenda Damiani, Director of Teaching and Learning in the Cambridge-Isanti School District also feels a deep sense of responsibility for how children reflect on history as it unfolds before our eyes. “We’re shining a spotlight on this event as a national day of service,” Damiani explains. “Even during a pandemic, there are still ways to serve the community, as Dr. King did.”  And providing resources for teachers to help students have productive discussions about local and national events is in the forefront. “Inequalities in our communities are something we need to be able to talk about. It’s not so much a debate as it is a dialogue. Our character education model includes five traits — compassion, respect, responsibility, self-discipline and honesty. They’re part of what we call the ‘Bluejacket Way’ and can help our students learn how to communicate about difficult topics.”

Youth Provide Hope for a Better Future

Youth of today, the leaders of tomorrow, are hard at work processing the events of the past and present. They are the generation that provide us hope for the future.

Beginning the conversation within our families and our schools, we can look upon Dr. King’s legacy with a new lens in light of recent events. Watch a civil rights documentary and ask yourself, what did I know, what did I learn? And as shared by Dr. Yohuru Williams (via KARE11), “Always be inspired by hope.”

Congressman John Lewis upon his passing this summer left one last letter to the American people urging us to act. “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war.”

It is not enough to honor Dr. King’s legacy, we must act. Let the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continue to provide inspiration for all of us today and the future leaders of tomorrow.

To quote Dr. King:

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

-Martin Luther King Jr. 

Published on: January 18, 2021