You might find it odd that our bathroom is decorated with black and white photos of people that inspire me. Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Bono, and Martin Luther King Jr. are just a few. These black and white photos are mounted on wood that I stained with my crafty hands and hung strategically so they could be talking pieces for our children while they bathe. The truth is, the only people that talk about the photos are adult guests who raz me after using our bathroom for the first time. “It was great to have Bono cheer me on while I was taking care of my business,” one male friend jested as he returned to the gathering we were having. Even though the photos have been a fixture in our home for four years, I decided to actually start talking about these people who have inspired me with my children. What better time than this weekend?
Being a teacher I have plenty of books about MLK on hand. I grabbed all that I could easily find in my classroom on Friday afternoon with a mission. Not only will I read these books to my students, but my children as well.
Fast forward to the downtime between dinner and bedtime tonight — when all hell has a tendency to break loose. I decided this was my moment. We set up my son’s mini tent in his bedroom, I chose three books and turned on the camping light.
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris
I Have a Dream Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (paintings by fifteen Coretta Scott King Awards and Honor Book artists)
Martin’s Big Words gave us a great overview of his life and included the Rosa Parks boycott. We did not talk much about this book because it contained a lot of information they already knew. Their school has done a great job of introducing this man to them.
The next book that MLK’s sister wrote, My Brother Martin, made us laugh. It captured this great orator as a little boy who grew up playing tricks on his family and friends. My daughter had me read a couple pages over and over as we pictured him as a mischievous little boy. We laughed and laughed. It also discussed the feelings of Christine and Martin as little children; when the veil was lifted and they were exposed to the ugliness of segregation. I could feel my kids nuzzling up to me even closer when these deeper topics were voiced in the book. Their little heads snuggled in tight around mine as my headlight lamp illuminated the pages before us.
And then we looked at the illustrations from the book I Have a Dream. The photos alone tell the story of his speech. The different artists captured scenes from the day of his speech, historical information such as the emancipation proclamation, symbolic shackles, protests, and the infamous photo of the peaceful protest at the diner where angry white patrons were pouring ketchup on the heads of the peaceful demonstrators. My daughter had many questions about that page. “Why are their faces so angry? Why are they pouring ketchup on their heads?” And finally, the illustrations in the book turn to hope. There are “little white children and little black children” playing together, colorful groups of people from every creed gathering at a table together, and sunsets displaying from where freedom should ring:
“…Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California…”
There was no way I could read every page to the kids; it is his speech, verbatim. His words are precise, full of symbolism, metaphors, and skillfully crafted. My goal was to give them the gist of what each page spoke about. There will come a day when they will read his words and be blown away at his insight and clarity. It was this book that helped me understand his speech — I highly recommend it to anyone.
At the end of the book, there is a large picture of Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech. I asked my kids, “Have you seen a picture of Martin hanging in our house?” Both replied, “No.” For a moment I thought, Mom fail. You see him every day when you brush your teeth!
But they had not seen him.
I told them to get up and go look in the bathroom. My son chose to stay and snuggle with me. My daughter’s curiosity got the best of her. She popped up out of the tent, ran to the bathroom, stood on the toilet seat and yelled, “Where is he?”
“Where is who?” yelled my husband.
“Martin Luther King Jr.” I heard his footsteps meet her in the bathroom.
“Ohhhhh. That’s him?”
“Yes, and this is another important man who fought for freedom named Nelson Mandela, who is visiting Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave in this picture.”
And there you have it. The discussions have started. Though Martin Luther King entered my heart years ago, and his photo has been hanging in our house since the kids were 5 and 3, he really just entered our home this weekend. It gives context to discussions that need to be held in a non-threatening way. I can’t wait to continue to share why each person who is hanging on their bathroom wall was put there.
Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.
May your big words continue to inspire us and bring hope to all generations!