I’ve been fascinated by the life and the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. since the fifth grade. Over the years I’ve watched, listened to, taken classes about, and repeatedly shared his sermons and speeches and letters. I’m no expert on either, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation and affection for both Dr. King and the movement he shaped and led alongside so many other brave men and women.
So MLK Day is always a mixed bag for me. I’m thankful for any opportunity for Dr. King’s powerful words to reverberate again through our culture. I’m also reminded of how much of the struggle remains almost fifty years after his murder.
As a 41 year-old white man, I don’t always know how to think and speak and write about issues of race, ethnicity, power, privilege, and justice. My struggle is not a function of not having thoughts or opinions; it is a function of an understanding of the limitations of those thoughts and opinions and the limitations of my own experience.
So I’ve tried (and often failed, then tried again) to listen more than I speak or write. This, I’m convinced, is key to any individual or collective progress in these important areas. We must decide to be people who listen first, listen second, listen third, and then speak when our listening has given birth to empathy and wisdom.
Amy and I also have tried to help our kids see the world through the eyes of people who experienced and still experience challenges and struggles our three haven’t and never will face. We’ve tried to raise them not to be “colorblind,” but to actually see, understand, and appreciate difference.
I’d like to share just a bit of the fruit of that, and I know in doing so I risk a couple of things. I risk looking like the white guy who thinks he’s done something heroic by giving his kids a bit of exposure to black history. I also risk being the parent who wants you to see how enlightened and amazing his kids are. I don’t know how to avoid either of those perceptions, but I’ll just ask for your grace and trust that neither of those motives are in my heart.
And I want to share in spite of those risks because I want to remember and to remind you that it matters that we do this. It matters that we tell our kids about our own failures and change and growth. It’s important that they know that there is sin and shame and pain and blood in their history, but that they are not bound by any of it.
I want to share in spite of those risks because I want to remember and remind you that they’re listening. They’re listening and they’re becoming.
My 14 year-old son Aiden’s thoughts on MLK Day:
I came home from a reading and discussion of Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and when I opened our front door, I heard his voice echoing from the living room. Amy and the kids were watching “I Have a Dream” as we always do on this day. Ella watched it three times in a row and drew the scene.
So much of Dr. King’s dream is still a dream, but not all of it. Some if it has come true and is coming true. I’m praying that our kids and your kids—that you and I— will continue to be the “coming true” as much as it’s up to us.