Monday, January 19, 2009

He Had A Dream

This is a newsletter I wrote for Sesame Workshop, without all the cute sidebar links. (If you want the original, delivered-to-your-inbox version, email me.)

I was constrained by my audience (parents of preschoolers) and writing standards (!) from exclaiming my whole-hearted admiration and respect for Dr. King, but I hope you get the idea of how grateful I am for his work . . . and my family.

You can read his whole I Have A Dream speech here. Absolutely masterful.


In our home, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has a special meaning. My husband Bryce and I are a white couple, and our four children are black. We are a rainbow-hued family, with my red-haired, pale-skinned husband on one side of the arc and our gorgeous raven-haired, chocolate-skinned daughter on the other. The rest of us make up the bands in between, and I happen to think we are beautiful!

Bryce and I work hard to instill a sense of pride in our children about who they are. We have many children's books on Martin Luther King, Jr. and other famous African Americans. Here are a few of our favorites:

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes

Booker T. Washington: Teacher, Speaker, and Leader by Suzanne Slade

Jackie Robinson: He Led the Way by April Jones Prince

If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold

In addition, our children witnessed the historic election of a president who looks like them, and who has gotten where he is through hard work and determination.

Even though our twins Cameron and Harrison are only 4 years old, I want them to be aware of their rich and wonderful heritage. And, I want them to know that their opportunities are limitless.

As in past years, we will celebrate MLK, Jr. Day by watching the parade downtown. On a deep level, our family is indebted to those who stood up for freedom and equality, and I want my children to understand that while we celebrate through song and dance, change did not come without great sacrifice.


Harrison is very observant and keenly interested in people's appearances. He is quick to point out who is "white" like me or who is "dark" like his older brother and sister. He considers himself "light brown." When I informed him that he and his twin brother Cameron had a babysitter coming later that evening, he asked, "Is she white or dark?" No judgment, just curiosity.

Questions and observations, I've discovered, can turn into teachable moments. One day Cameron asked why his friend Mari ate with chopsticks. It was a great opportunity to explain Mari's Chinese culture. Another time he was curious about why he was not able to understand a little boy at the park. After listening for a moment, I realized the boy was speaking Spanish. I told Cameron he should try saying "Hola" to the boy. He did, and he made a new friend that day.

Another time, we saw a woman in a wheelchair, and the twins asked her why she couldn't walk. At first, I was afraid the woman might be offended, but she was happy to talk to my curious little boys. She told me, "I don't mind at all. I'd rather have people talk to me than just ignore me because of my chair." That day, it struck me that understanding differences does more than teach tolerance -- it teaches inclusion.

A preschool teacher once shared with me a lesson she does with her class. She shows the children one white egg and one brown egg. Then she cracks the first egg into a clear bowl and lets the children see. She repeats with the other egg. In the bowls, the eggs look exactly alike. She explains to the class that people, like eggs, come in different colors, but we're the same on the inside, and that's what counts.


This January 19, we celebrate the life and works of a remarkable man. Without Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s impassioned leadership, this version of my family might not even exist.

We are eternally grateful that it does.

When we adopted each of our children, I began to see the world through different eyes. I moved from a general "people should be appreciated for what's inside" to a very real investment that they would.

Dr. King’s powerful plea became my own:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

When I see how loved and accepted my four children are by their extended family, dear friends, and even strangers, I believe his dream is coming true.

Thank you, thank you, Dr. King.

1 comment:

d/b/c/m said...

Amen! Lovely sentiments! I'm sure this holiday (and inauguration) must have an extra special spot for you.

I talked and read stories about the civil rights movement and Dr. King to Cambria and Maya and wasn't sure if they really "got" it, but when Dave came home for lunch and to go to the book drop-off with us, they were both so excited to tell him all about it. They really got it and Maya excitedly summarized the history about them not letting them in restaurants and "Martin said...". It was so touching.

I really like the egg analogy.