Originally posted in 2015:
My daughters came home from school on Friday full of excitement for a long weekend. I asked my youngest if she knew why she had the day off on Monday. “It’s Martin Luther King Day,” she answered.
“Right,” I told her. Did you learn anything about Martin Luther King at school?”
“Yep,” said my kindergarten girl. “But I don’t remember everything. He was very nice. He wanted everyone to get along and be fair. And he had a very long speech.”
Not bad for a 5 year-old.
My eldest reminded her sisters that we had visited the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial during a trip to Washington D.C. last fall. Even at only 9 years old, she had been struck by the quotes carved in stone there – especially this one from Dr. King’s 1963 Strength to Love:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Listening to her try to explain that quote to her sisters, I was struck by the amazing ability of children to grasp big concepts, to feel big emotions, and to see deeper truth. We don’t give kids enough credit for those abilities.
And for too many kids, the resources needed to grow those abilities just aren’t there.
A new study by the Southern Education Foundation (widely publicized by an article in The Huffington Post) shows that over half of American public schoolchildren are living in poverty. According to FirstBook.org, “Most of these children have no age-appropriate books at home, and the classrooms and programs they attend are woefully under-resourced. Approximately two-thirds of these schools and programs cannot afford to buy books at retail prices.”
How do we fight the darkness of ignorance and illiteracy? What light do we have to shine for the 51% of American schoolchildren living in poverty, without adequate access to books?
This Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I hope you will consider these words:
I said to my children, ‘I’m going to work and do everything that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don’t ever want you to forget that there are millions of God’s children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don’t want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.’
— Martin Luther King, Jr. , 7th January, 1968
There are so many ways that you can help!
- Support literacy organizations like those on my Links to Like page.
- Donate books, money or time to your local library – or a library in a distressed/impoverished neighborhood.
- Contact school librarians to find out what help they need – is it books? money? time?
- Build or donate a Little Free Library in a community that needs books.
- Volunteer to read with students in an after-school program.
- Connect with classroom teachers through DonorsChoose.org – where you can find a classroom in need and donate money or supplies to help.
- Contact your government representatives to let them know that poverty and literacy are important issues to you.
Enjoy your holiday, read a book with your children (here’s a great list of MLK Day books from Reading Rockets) and please share with us how you celebrate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in your home or community.