Travel most of the week followed by a redeye and weather-induced issues on traffic, cut my office time to just one day this past week. One of the topics we discussed was the upcoming holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday. Sitting here on the weekend, I tried to get photos from my trip organized as well as decide what I’ll be blogging about for the week. Somewhere in the process, I stumbled across photos in my Facebook timeline. A friend had decided to make the 2-3 hour drive to Memphis to see the National Civil Rights Museum. That’s when I stopped the organizing and started capturing my thoughts.
Growing up in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King was a name I got to recognize and understand some of the significance that went along with it very early in life. See, I was a toddler when the shot rang out in the Memphis sky. When I was in first grade, I think April 4th went by without a lot of my attention, but by second grade I was learning quite a bit about the man and his efforts in civil rights. It was the first year of integration. And it was made clear early that many students would not be at school on April 4 out of memory of Dr. King. That week we had an assembly that included the classes doing various parts, I remember some of the lyrics to a song my class sang “dream about the dream of dreams, the dream of Martin Luther King.”
Its incredibly fitting that I remember that so clearly because that was a year of so much change in my part of the world. It was the year when grownups really pointed out the color differences in a way. Sure I had heard people say words that referred to color but my mom wouldn’t have let me even think about that sort of behavior. But in second grade, a bunch of my classmates were spending 30 minutes on a bus to get to the neighborhood I grew up in. In third grade I was to have been the one on a bus but things were still pretty contentious so my parents sent me to private school for two years. But the way color was discussed along with civil rights was different and I was in classes with kids whoi may have looked differently but it seemed like so many other things were the same. Soon my closest friends had skintones of all shades.
Even though I don’t think I ever saw a King speech live on TV, he continued to be at the forefront of my Memphis experience. Interestingly, it was the year I graduated from high school that a group in Memphis began raising money to create a museum that would mark his place in Memphis and the civil rights movement he championed.By the time the museum was dedicated, I was getting ready to get my master’s degree from Memphis.
Continued Awareness & Learning
While its easy to put civil rights into a historical framework, its important to keep in mind that things continue happening around us. With the growing diversity of my family and friends, it seems there is always something that can prompt a glimpse of places we can do better. After the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, the U.S. was not the most comfortable place for people who follow the teachings of Allah. In fact, eventhough I hadn’t seen the TLC show All-American Muslim before, the recent firestorm that came as a couple of high profile advertisers pulled their ads astounded me. I cannot say the ads were pulled due to the pressure of groups, but the question comes to mind for me and a lot of others.And having a lot of friends who are Muslim, and having seen that the reaction to them isn’t always fair, it makes me wonder. And after the controversy, I suddenly watched the show online. From the spots shown on the web, I think the show had the potential to increase understanding among people of different faiths, that to me is worth a lot. If a “reality show” can help build understanding, then maybe there really is hope. That’s much more likely the kind of show I’d watch than the ones of whiners and complainers that I can flip past fast enough! And there is something to the fact that one person can make a difference.
After I posted this I saw this post on the Girl Scouts and some people’s insistence that perhaps we should boycott their cookies based on differences of opinion with how some kids should be excluded from activities. Well, I guess I’ll be buying extra cookies despite my trying to lose weight…. I’ll just find some skinny folks to take some off my hands. Maybe the local senior center could use some.