Monday, January 15, 2007

Just Us

Icon by Robert Lentz

I grew up in a school system where we studied the African American experience(s) in almost all aspects of the curriculum. In fourth grade, the academic highlights for me were:

*Presenting my luminary, George Washington Carver, as if I were telling the audience an autobiography

*The Black History knowledge bowl

*Helping to write a class-produced rhyming couplet poem about Harriet Tubman

*Book report as a commercial for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

Even though I was in the so-called “Gifted and Talented,” program, I was strictly bottom-shelf in the social hierarchy, and didn’t show signs of brilliance to compensate (though I assumed that one day I’d be a children’s book author of some renown). I felt so powerless, too. People were mean to me, and sometimes I came up with retorts, but most of the time, the confrontations ended up with me crying. However, I got fierce when people were mean to other people. Perhaps that is why I kvelled to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. When our Language Arts teacher assigned us to write essays about how we thought Rev. King would view the world today, I wrote out every mean, racist thing I had heard my classmates say. I wrote that Rev. King would be appalled. I didn’t name anyone specifically, but I quoted the conversations as I remembered them. I was venting, not tattling.

However, I did not expect my teacher to read my essay aloud to the class.

No one confronted me afterward. How could they? No one was going to admit s/he said what I had quoted. Still, I wanted to hide myself. It was as if I had stood up and said, “You all out there are so very, very bad and by implication, I am so very, very good.” I didn’t feel good. I just felt angry about injustice. I knew Rev. King was angry about injustice, too. I admired him for actually doing things to dissolve the rage and promote peace.

I know Rev. King wasn’t perfect. I know that he made mistakes just like other human beings. There were times when I was frustrated with my knowledge of his faults, because I was worried that the flaws would negate the good things Rev. King had done.

They don’t. So, thank you, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (flaws and virtues and everything). Thank you for doing your part to bring peace and justice into our lives. May we all continue the work.