What are we really teaching kids about Martin Luther King?

This post was contributed by a community member. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This day was created to honor the memory of Dr. King and his message of acceptance and tolerance. However, are we honoring his memory and his message? It could be argued that no, we are not honoring him or his message. In fact, it can be said that we have forgotten the message from him. Schools will be closed on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Day. However, when I tell children and adolescents that they have a holiday on Monday, many children are surprised. In fact, many children don’t even know why we have a holiday on Monday. How are we honoring the life and message of Martin Luther King, if students have no idea why they are on vacation? Additionally, we have men and women in Congress who continue to discuss how we need to secure our southern border because “Mexican” immigrants are bringing drugs and crime into our country. The emphasis is on our southern border. Congress doesn’t seem to care about our northern border or the thousands of people coming into our country on planes and cruise ships. They seem not to care about immigrants and tend to focus on “Mexican” immigrants. If we continue to see the world this way, are we remembering and honoring the memory and message of Martin Luther King?

Let’s also take a look at what is happening in our Country. In recent years there has been a significant increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, transgender people, and minorities in general (CDC). Many Asian Americans are afraid to leave their homes and walk the streets. They are afraid of being attacked by someone on the street because some people blame Asian Americans for covid. Attacks on Jewish temples and anti-Semitic violence have increased significantly every year for several years. Many Jewish Americans have been attacked and killed in temples and synagogues for no reason except for being Jewish. The transgender and transgender communities are also afraid to go out and socialize because many of their clubs have been targeted in mass shootings and many people have been senselessly murdered (CDC). Once again, how are we honoring the memory and legacy of Dr. King, if people are afraid to leave their homes and live their lives because they might be killed for being themselves?

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Finally, the most important point that shows that we are not honoring Dr. King is our choices. Many southern states changed their voting laws for the 2022 elections. Most of these laws made it very difficult, if not impossible, for all African Americans to cast their ballots. Instead of moving forward, we have been going backwards, especially in the South. The changes are making voting for African Americans look like it did in the 1950s. Limiting the hours they can vote and making it illegal to give people waiting in line to vote a drink of water. What are we doing to make it illegal to give someone a drink of water? Many older people or people with health problems need more water, especially if they stand in line for hours. The new election laws made people choose between exercising their right to vote as Americans or taking care of their health. What kind of choice is this? I’m sure Dr. King never advocated for laws like these. In fact, he was advocating against these types of laws and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity regardless of their race, creed, or sexual orientation.

If we are not honoring his message, what are we teaching children born after the year 2000? These children have never had the opportunity to be exposed to Dr. King’s message nor have they seen the discrimination that has occurred in the past. Many teenagers wear T-shirts or get tattoos with racist symbols. Many of these teens have no idea what these symbols really mean. To many people we have felt that we made great progress in our country regarding race relations. In fact, we had an African-American president. Therefore, some people have felt that we do not need to teach children about past discrimination. However, we need to go further with education in the United States. I attended UC Berkeley and took an American history class taught by a leading expert on US history. They never taught me about African American Wall Street and how it was destroyed. He was supposed to receive one of the best educations in the country because he was attending one of the best universities in the country. However, my education did not address very important race-related issues that I should have educated myself about. If I didn’t get a thorough education on race issues and went to one of the best universities in the country, what are other students getting?

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However, discrimination based on race, color, creed, sexuality, and physical ability is very much alive in the United States. We need to teach children about Hitler and the Holocaust. We also need to teach children about Supreme White. We need to educate our children about their message and the symbols they use. We must also educate children about how easily these people can return and that discrimination still exists in the United States.

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Dr. King’s message was to accept everyone and respect their human dignity. We have no right to judge anyone based on race, color, creed, sexuality, or physical ability. We are all human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. Yes he pointed out that there are people who will decide to judge and hate others based on differences. Dr. King, like Ghandi before him, pointed out that we accept these people too. They are still people even though they choose to be cruel to others.

While he told people to acknowledge these people as human beings, he did not say to accept their hate. His message, like Gandhi’s, was nonviolence. You can accept the person without being cruel to them because of their message. Dr. King believed that the power of love is stronger than the power of hate. Finding a way to accept and love those who judge you is the strongest way to combat the hate in their hearts.

If we look around us, this message is still being taught to children. As adults we need to reinforce it. The Disney movie Frozen is an example. In the movie she teaches children how if someone doesn’t feel love she will misbehave and make bad decisions. It also teaches that “love will thaw out.” In other words, love is a stronger force than hate and can eliminate hate. This movie also looks at how to judge people based on differences. So here is a modern example of Dr. King’s message. Love and acceptance will triumph over hate. As adults we need to reinforce this message to our children.

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It is very important that we do it at this time in our country. We have people killing people because of the color of their skin, their religion or their sexuality. This is not what Dr. King was teaching us. We have people in our government who want to treat people differently because of their color, religion, or sexuality. Again, this is not Dr. King’s message. Dr. King also didn’t want us to hate these people. He encouraged all of us to accept and love one another. Love can triumph over hate. He has done it in the past and he can do it again.

So, to honor Dr. King and his message, sit down with your children and teens and educate them on Dr. King’s message. Love is stronger than hate. I’ve included one of his quotes at the top of this blog that you can use.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience treating adolescents and children. He is also one of the founding members of the Junta Nacional Vivos y Libres. For more information about his work or his private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his facebook page www.facebook.com/drrubino3.

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