Several years ago, when my oldest was in preschool, she became obsessed about Dr. King after learning about him in school. Each day she would come home and report what she learned. And each day she would have a new, impossible question for me about the civil rights movement. As you can probably imagine, the discussion about Dr. King in preschool is pretty simplistic in the description. Simplistic for my daughter only left her brain wide open for interpretation.
So one day, when my husband needed a ride into work, I found myself in the car with both my husband and my daughter. The three of us found ourselves in bumper to bumper traffic on I-285. (If you are not familiar with metro-Atlanta traffic and/or the "perimeter," take a minute to imagine hell and that is what that interstate is comparable to.) So there we were siting in Dante's Fifth Circle of hell, like the the river Styx, it was also a swampy, fetid cesspool since it was raining that day, when Miss M brought up Dr. King. The conversation went something like this...
"Momma, is Dr. King alive or dead."
"Momma, why is Dr. King dead."
"Honey, sometimes people die."
"Momma, how did Dr. King die."
"Honey, well he was assassinated." As the words were leaving my mouth, my husband simultaneously shouted, "Nooooooooooo."
There was no way to take back the words. My four year old was now about to receive an education about assassination.
"Momma, what is assassination?" My husband looked over to me with those telling eyes, those "I'll take it from here eyes."
"Sweetie, assassination just means that a bad guy made it so Dr. King is not alive anymore. But, you don't have to worry about anything because police officers put bad guys in jail."
My daughter sat there for a little while contemplating this new found information.
Then she said, "Well, Dr. King would never go to jail because he is a good man."
And before I could stop myself, while my husband was reaching out his arm across my chest to stop the accident of knowledge that was about to happen, I further opened Pandora's box, "Well, actually he did go to jail for breaking the law, but those laws weren't good laws."
"Really, Jenny? Really?" My husband muttered under his breath.
"But I thought we were supposed to always follow the laws? I thought Martin Luther King was a good man." My daughter melted down into a series of questions and began muttering like I just shattered her reality.
Needless to say, I am not sure what was more painful- the traffic that day or the realization that those difficult parenting conversations can strike at any moment, and neither one of us were prepared. For weeks following that day, my daughter obsessed about Dr. King, James Earl Ray (because she begged and pleaded that I show her a picture on the internet of that bad man that killed Dr. King), and what it means to be a good person.
When, I am at a loss for how to handle those difficult questions, I always look for a good book.
My favorite book to explain Dr. King's life to small children would have to be Martin's Big Words. I found this book while visiting the King Memorial in Washington, DC. The book tells the story of Dr. King beautifully, weaving together quotes from his speeches and historical anecdotes of his life. The images are stunning, capturing the moments in history without coming across as childlike, even though they are in a children's book. If there ever was a story of kindness, it would have to be that of Dr. King.
My daughter and I read this book together this year on April 4th, the anniversary of his death and discussed what Martin's Big Words mean to her. My favorite quote from the book is, "Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Her favorite quote is, "Love is the key to the problems of the world."
Do you have a favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quote?
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