From Small Acts of Heroism to Great Acts of History

On MLK Day,  I was invited to speak to the community volunteers and City Year partners who participated in a Day of Service beautifying Martin Luther King Elementary School in Seattle.  Here are samples of their work:

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mlkmural3Here’s an excerpt from my speech:

Thank you for your service. Thank you for the honor and invitation to attend and share a few thoughts with you this afternoon on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was a very moving and engaging experience.

Throughout the museum were examples of demonstrations of solidarity and bravery. Examples of heroism, from people of courage like the great Civil Rights leader John Lewis, alongside Reverend King.

On display were seemingly small acts of heroism – like sitting at a lunch counter, riding a bus, walking into a newly desegregated school. These were in fact great acts of history.

Small acts of heroism can happen every day in our own lives. Every student who braves doubt or misfortune, and picks up a pencil, a book, or turns on a computer and tries her or his best anyway.

Every teacher or helper who boosts a student’s confidence and helps them uncover their spark, their talents.

We remember MLK for his heroism. It is also important to remember what an erudite man he was. He was well read, and extremely, extremely eloquent.

At the museum in Atlanta, there was an exhibit of his papers and letters. There was a wall-size photograph of his personal library. This served as a reminder that he was a thinker as well as a doer. This is a message we must share with our children and students: Know your history. Read, write, think. Think for yourself.

Your education is something that can never be taken away from you.

Recent national events have offered a painful reminder of how much farther we have to go to achieve equality, humanity, justice in this nation.

There has been racial injustice we have witnessed in many forms – and hate speech thinly disguised as political campaign rhetoric.

But we are not fooled. We know that words matter, and such speech can divide and wound a nation.

In this way, these events also serve as a reminder of how important it is that we raise and nurture the next generation of thinkers, doers, so they will base their actions and their votes on facts and history, not ignorance and personal desperation.

Thank you for your work, for helping our students become the next generation of thinkers and doers. As the President of the Seattle School Board, on behalf of the Board and the District, I am proud to have such partners for the 53,000 students of Seattle Public Schools.

lewiskingJohn Lewis marching with Dr. King.

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Images from the Center for Civil & Human Rights: Father and son, and MLK quote

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