In the Name of Love: A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wasn’t born when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech during that tumultuous summer of 1963 when a quarter million people marched on Washington, but King’s inspiring words have floated around in my head much of my adult life.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr._______________

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

_______________

King’s ideas, and more so, his actions, have stood as a powerful reminder that even the most insurmountable challenges can be conquered when one person’s dreams are fueled by passion and commitment.

• • •

For the past several days I’ve spent numerous hours trying to write a meaningful tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., agonizing over each word, nuance, and angle. But nothing I created felt worthy of Dr. King and all the extraordinary things he did.

I wanted so badly to get this tribute right that I continually got it wrong. My words weren’t powerful enough nor my ideas brilliant enough, or my approach passionate enough to adequately honor somebody who changed so much for our country.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr. in jailMy daughter, Olivia, watched as I sat at my computer, struggling with my thoughts. She watched as I listened to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube, feeling the emotion I was trying to put into words. She watched as I played U2’s music video, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”—one of my all-time favorite songs. Then she watched as I closed the lid on my laptop and gave up.

I tried to ignore the crummy feeling that immediately washed over me, but I couldn’t. I had let myself down (particularly since I was trying to honor somebody whose character was the epitome of strength, determination and persistence), and I had also set a horrible example for my daughter. Nothing about it felt okay.

What came next though changed everything.

Olivia came back into my office a few minutes later, put her arms around my neck, then said, “I think we should do something special.”

I was so deep in my self-flagellating thoughts that I merely placated her with, “Hmmmm,” not even thinking about what she was trying to say.

Olivia, who is nothing but persistent, tried once again to get my full attention and shake me out of my glum mood, repeating subtly, “I THINK WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING SPECIAL.”

Finally, I snapped backed in a semi-annoyed voice–not wanting to play the guessing game, “Do something special for what?”

“You know, Mom…uh…Martin Luther King.” (duh!).

That’s all she had to say to make everything right. I couldn’t put into words how important this man was to me, or to our nation, but my 8-year old instinctively knew, and wanted to honor him.

Photo of a candle flameAt dinner we symbolically lit candles and talked about Dr. King and all he did. We talked about the difficulties he faced and how he changed our nation by pursuing his dream of equality with passion and commitment.

Photo of Rosa parksThen Olivia said, “Tell me about Rosa Parks.” When my husband explained that she was arrested because she wouldn’t give up her seat for a white person and go to the back of the bus, Olivia said, “Are you kidding me? That makes no sense.”

The fact that she could not comprehend this way of thinking said everything.

It reminded me of when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Olivia was just five years old, but Jeffrey and I kept her home from preschool that day so she could watch Obama’s historic inauguration with us on TV.

Photo Barack Obama inaugurationWhen Olivia saw tears trickling down my cheeks, she cocked her head and said, “Mommy, why are you crying? Aren’t you happy that Bawack Obama is pwesident?”

I had to explain to her that I couldn’t have been happier or more proud of our country. We were finally living up to our creed that all men are created equal.

Jeffrey simply said, “I want you to always remember this moment, Olivia.”

Just like the conversation that surrounded Obama’s inauguration, our entire dinner conversation last night focused on judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, just like Martin Luther King dreamed so many years ago.

Martin Luther King jr Day graphicThe topper to my whole “perfect moment” evening though, was when Olivia asked, “Why don’t people work on Martin Luther King Day?” When I told her that many people choose to honor him by doing community service or giving back, she immediately said, “I want to feed the homeless again. Pleeeeaase? Can we pleeeeeeease? I really want to do that.”

So there you go, Dr. King, we will be honoring you once again by giving back to our community, and continuing to celebrate your dream–a dream that becomes more and more powerful with each new generation, simply because equality for all is a given in the eyes of young people who have not yet learned to be ignorant.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr.

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39 thoughts on “In the Name of Love: A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

  1. Becky, this post is so moving and inspiring! I want Olivia to move in with us! You have to love children who are so sensitive, bright and loving! If more parents educated their children as you seem to be doing, we would be able to live the dream. However, I haven’t given up hope. I want to believe we can honor Martin Luther King, Jr. We’ve made great strides and now all we have to do is keep going! 🙂

  2. So lovely, Becky – thanks so much for sharing this one. I love that Olivia led you to that meaningful tribute that you were fretting over – just as you and Jeffrey have led her to such life-honoring values. In my non-fishing life, I ran a dinner program for homeless youth, and the volunteers who brought their young children meant the world to me – and to our guests, too, who were often very protective of these kids, in a way that no one had been protective of them. I loved that these volunteers taught their children right from the start that poor didn’t mean untouchable, and we’re here to take care of each other. I suspect your family has had similar conversations, and that makes my heart smile. Thank you for this post.

    • Many thanks, Tele, for your sweet comment, and for sharing a special part of your life with me (and my readers). I can imagine how meaningful that dinner program was for both you and the people you were helping. While children may be a little nervous about getting involved at first, once they see that people are just people, no matter where or how they live, it quickly makes sense to them. We could learn a lot from kids! 🙂

    • Thank you, Stacy. I was just reading your post a minute ago–loving your take on racial issues at various times in your life in various places around the world. In one of my first drafts of my MLK post, I started writing about my travels to South Africa shortly after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the impact it had on me. As I mentioned in this draft though, my words never felt quite right. I’m glad you enjoyed this version. Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment! I appreciate your kind words.

  3. I do believe there is a perfect person being raised in your household. Cheers to you and Jeffrey for all you do to involve Olivia no matter her age. She is a lucky little girl!

    • Okay, now THAT cracks me up. SHE’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO BEING PERFECT, but we sure do love her anyway. 🙂 Somehow she puts up with us too! You can’t be a perfect kid if you have woefully imperfect parents, BUT you can enjoy life and jump in with both feet when you’re given different opportunities. Miss O has been jumping from the moment she was born. That probably explains why we are perpetually exhausted!

  4. Becky, just when you couldn’t find the words — your daughter stepped in. How amazing is that? And as we’re talking about character, your daughter’s actions speak volumes about your own character, as a person and as a mother. To believe, so deeply, in the importance of pointing out these moments and opportunities to your daughter is such a treasure. You’re raising her right (which you already knew, of course). 🙂

    So many parents don’t even take one step towards volunteering. Maybe they drop off a toy at a drive during the holidays (which is so important), but they don’t get their children actively involved, as you have done when you set up that food donations stand with your daughter. I think of that post often, and of the impact you had on not only your daughter, but the men and women who came to you for help. Talk about practicing what you preach! Well done, my friend.

    I think you delivered this post far more eloquently than you even realized. Part of this holiday is about teaching. Remembering. And that’s just what you and your beautiful family did. (And “Bawack?” Too precious!)

    • Melissa, thank you for your kind words. Coming from a mom for whom I have great admiration, it means a lot. Parenthood is no easy dance, and I often find myself tripping over my own feet, but when a moment like this comes along, I like to take the time to celebrate it. Clearly my philosophy on life and/or my approach to parenting may not resonate with everybody, but I appreciate you letting me know that it did with you.

  5. A generous young girl you have on your hands. Speaking as both an optimist and a realist, I’d say the real trick will be to help her not lose this natural inclination. Sadly, the harsher flavors of life will try to mold her too…

  6. I’m left with mixed feelings and questions. If the point is to teach your daughter “Character is more important than color” then why did you keep her home from pre-school because a black man was elected president? And why is Olivia begging to feed the homeless people? I don’t really get this…It seems sort of superficial which I understand is exactly what you were trying to avoid in the first place.

    • Linda, thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment–even if it doesn’t sound like you connected with my words. I appreciate your candor though, and the amount of time you took out of your day to drop by my blog.

      Why did we keep our daughter home from preschool? Because we wanted her to understand why it was such an important moment in the history of our nation. Treating it like any other day wouldn’t have felt genuine to me, and not teaching her about where our country has been would have seemed like a missed learning opportunity. Why was she begging to feed the homeless? Simple. Because we have a very large homeless population in our town and she wanted to try to do something to help. We have done several different types of community service activities in the past and this is what she connected with most. Making somebody a sack lunch and handing it to them with an open heart taught her that one person can make a tiny difference in the life of somebody else. It was how she wanted to honor Dr. King–by giving back. If these things are superficial, then I’ll take my lumps. If she learns about helping others and celebrating diversity, then those lumps are all worth it.

      • Hi, Becky! ~

        Thank you for your response.

        I’m noticing my personal negative reaction to the commonly used phrase ‘feed the homeless’ or ‘feed the less fortunate’ which sounds like ‘feed the ducks’ or something…Do you know what I mean? It sort of takes the humanity away from human interaction by lumping them all into a big group of poor people who we help because we feel sorry for them.

        How about beginning to shift into thinking in terms of ‘breaking bread with Charlie’ (who happens to be homeless) or ‘having Mary over for dinner’ (and what does ‘less fortunate’ even mean?) I’m looking forward to a world where we all see each other as individuals, like Charlie, rather than labels, like homeless.

        I wonder what are we really teaching our kids about these concepts? Just something to think about..

      • PS I’m guessing that you have never been homeless. Because I have been homeless and I would not have felt grateful or impressed if your little girl said to my little boy, “We love to feed the homeless!” Just sayin…

  7. Brilliantly done Becky! This was really inspirational. Few weeks earlier I was talking about that famous speech of Martin Luther King Jr with a friend of mine. I did not even know that yesterday was his birth day. But yes not only Olivia, we all want to honor him. Great post about a great person.

    • Thanks, Arindam. I’m glad you were inspired by this post. It’s easy for us to remember MLK’s birthday because here we have a national holiday to celebrate him. Children stay home from school and federal offices and businesses are closed. It gives us a chance to honor the man who did so much for our country.

  8. Dang! Now you’ve gone and made me cry. I’ve stood on that bridge in Selma more than once and thought about great courage. I’ve seen the firebombed bus in Anniston. I appreciate how far we have come, but know how far we have yet to go. Again, beautiful job, Becky. HF

    • We have come a long way, but we definitely have a long way to go. The fact that most kids believe in equality for all (at least until somebody teaches them ignorant thoughts), makes me eternally hopeful. Your tears filled my cup this morning. Thanks for leaving me such a nice comment.

  9. Becky, what a wonderful post, and what a smart and loving little girl. Olivia and her drive to feed the homeless, there couldn’t be a better tribute to Dr. King.

    Thanks for joining the blogfest.

  10. Becky, I think that you and your husband support MLK’s dream by using words and pictures to document so many different cultures. It takes away that feeling of “other” and brings us closer together. In my blog post today I wrote about how hard it was to say something worthy on this day, too. And then I ended up writing about my Russian children and the concerns of discrimination as well as self-worth I worried about when they first came.

  11. It’s interesting, we have lots of friends from lots of places, and have never discussed with them using WORDS our outlook on the matter. Now, when the girls come home from school with historical information on the segregation days, they find it so completely obtuse that it’s hard to even comprehend. In some ways, in our little world, the job is done :).

  12. What a wonderful tribute, Becky. And isn’t it always the children who lead us to where we need to go? Great post as always–you write so beautifully. (FYI: I think we are on the same wave length as I noticed we posted within 1 minute of each other!)

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