Honoring Dr. King ain’t no silly thing

How do you explain civil rights to a white kid? Especially one who’s only 4?

Hell if I know. We took him to the park. That seemed like the simplest way to do it. To spend MLK Day downtown, in community.

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Because our town is a place of diversity, welcoming of refugees. They tell me you can hear 121 different languages in the local elementary schools. I grew up with: English. My boys will grow up with Arabic and Slovak and Spanish and Vietnamese and so many more. They will grow up surrounded by the beauty of world cultures.


At the park, the boys played with Asian children, Hispanic children, Black children. And didn’t think one thing about it. This is normal life.

The children’s museum organized crafts while we were there. And they brought along books about Dr. King. The 4-year-old picked one, Let Freedom Sing by Vanessa Newton, and picked me to read it to him.

I cringed a bit and opened the book. Not sure where this would lead.

The opening was a safe one. I can do this! I can sing these printed words: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

Then we turned more pages. And there I confronted the following:
— People getting on a bus. In two separate lines. White people entering from the front and black people entering from the back.
— People drinking from water fountains. Two separate fountains. One for white people, the other for black people.
— People lined up to throw rocks at a little girl in front of a school. White people. A little black girl.

Then I started a simple refrain and tried not to cry: “Isn’t that silly?”
— That black people couldn’t sit wherever they wanted to on the bus?
— That black people couldn’t use the same water fountain as white people when they needed a drink?
— That bad guys would’ve told your classmate Keisha she couldn’t go to school with you and that they might have hurt her if she’d tried?

What in the world were people thinking?

My 4-year-old doesn’t know it’s “historic” that we’ve had a black president his entire life. He doesn’t know the backlash that has brought on Trump’s presidency. What he does know is that you don’t throw rocks at people. That when you want to ride the bus, you get in a line and wait your turn and you don’t take someone else’s seat. And that when you’re thirsty, you deserve a drink without fretting over where to get one.

What my 4-year-old does know is that his funny, sweet friend Keisha, full of dynamic life, deserves a seat at the snack table at school and that she, too, loves to play with the legos and puzzles and books that my kid enjoys each day.

And one day soon I’ll replace the word “silly” with a word closer to the truth: Isn’t that unconscionable?

How do you explain these concepts to your kids? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook at MothersRest.

Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida from

Looking for resources to talk with your kids about this?

A friend shared this great list of children’s books that tackle racism and ethnicity, compiled by The New York Times.

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