I admit out of the gate, I could do better personally to honor the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy through the free provision of service to those in need.
You’ll further forgive me if this year I feel less guilty. I plan to honor the day through developing and training my staff to meet our community’s needs year round. After a year in which the most egregious aspects of our national character have been manifested through our national leadership, and the implementation of policies that continue to neglect entire classes, the critical work of community development through youth enrichment has seldom been more relevant in my lifetime.
Perhaps, it’s just a reflection of the national mood that is driving my cynicism, which is undoubtedly shared among those in my generation that seek to keep our darkest days behind us…and it’s a shame that I have to keep reminding myself our darkest days are behind us.
More likely, it is the seemingly never-ending barrage of negative activity and imagery that, left unchecked, will bring upon permanent nationwide derangement, in which it is acceptable to degrade, or as we have seen, tacitly approve hints of the racism that permeate almost 50 years removed from Dr. King’s assassination. Less than two weeks into this new year, we were reminded of the ravages of racism, as viscerally as the continuing struggle of American citizens in Puerto Rico and as blatant as the ignorant imagery of a recent and maddeningly clueless H&M ad in which a handsome young child is lost for the “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” message on his hoodie.
These stark reminders of the continuing work we must engage in often overshadow all for which we should be thankful. For example, a little over a year removed from the tenure of the nation’s first Black president, Black people can celebrate growth in areas such as employment, with a 6.8 unemployment rate that represents the lowest level since such data has been tracked. And it’s more than just jobs, as more young, gifted Black minds are seizing competitive opportunities in a tight job market.
And speaking of Black minds, in normal years perhaps we would locally celebrate the pursuit of Dr. King’s dream with the recent news of impressive gains made by all students, but particularly Black youth in Indianapolis Public Schools. This week, the district celebrated the promising news of a nearly 83 percent graduation rate for the 2016-17 school year. The gains represent a six percentage point increase in the district’s graduation rate from the 2015-2016 school year. Among African-American students, the district reported an 84 percent graduation rate, which outpaces the state average. By most objective accounts, these data present growth in a time where the district, city, and state have embraced innovative partnerships designed to stimulate school options and accessibility.
But, 2018, of course, is not a normal year. It is certainly not normal when the same Leader of the Free World signs a proclamation honoring Dr. King while demeaning the very people he fought and died to protect as second class humans from “shithole countries.”
So perhaps this MLK Day I need less forgiveness for spending that solemn day working because now our work is more important than ever.
Check of these other pieces in Indy/Ed MLK Day 2018 Reflection series:
"Separate and Not Equal Cannot Continue in IPS" by Cheryl Kirk
"Teaching the Way Martin Luther King Would" by Andrew Pillow
"We Need More Dreamers" by Shawnta S. Barnes
"Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Era of 45" by David McGuire