For the legacy of Martin Luther King to be relevant beyond the third Monday in January, it must not be seen through the narrow lens based largely on a portion of a single speech, but in a broader context that allows everyone to personalize it.
And if that legacy is to continue beyond the pedantic and predictable, young people must define it void of obstruction by self-appointed guardians.
This year, Berkeley's Second Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Breakfast decided to have more direct involvement with students. Berkeley Police Chief, Michael Meehan, a breakfast committee member, reached out to Janet Levenson, principal at Martin Luther King Middle School. The result was an art, poetry, and essay contest under the theme: Taking a Stand.
The winners, both 7th graders, Anjuli Arreola-Burl and Allie Burl offered projects that uniquely personalized the King legacy.
Arreola-Burl, juxtaposed a portrait of King with a self-portrait divided by a rainbow that simply read: Taking a Stand! Through the power of image, Arreoloa-Burl demonstrates how she is a descendant of the King legacy.
Bailey wrote a poem entitled: "What you think is right." Though it never mentions King by name, Bailey's words leave little doubt that taking a stand is very much connected to the King legacy and to her personal moral obligation.
What you Think is Right
"I see the crowd forming around her already,
The new girl -- she's been bullied.
' Cause she's different.
' Cause she doesn't speak much; doesn't do much.
The people just have to bother someone.
Like it's a religion or something.
I've seen it happen for all these years, but this time it bothers me.
I don't know why, I just can't take it anymore.
I'm walking over there, I can hear, the name-calling,
The shouts, the pushing and pulling
The hitting and the sobs.
The teachers don't see it,
Or maybe they just don't care, but I do.
I'm elbowing through the crowd,
Suddenly I find myself in the middle.
The people go silent.
All you can hear is the wind and the scuffing of feet on the pavement.
The girl has stopped crying.
People start getting mad; they ask what I'm doing, tell me to leave.
I tell them to stop what they're doing, what they're saying.
I tell them it's wrong, that it's not OK.
They have no right to pick on someone because they feel like it.
She's staring at me, jaw dropped.
I've never talked to her or really looked at her, really.
She's pretty, with pale skin and dark brown hair.
I wonder if they're jealous, if they do things because they can't be like her.
I ask them why they do it.
Someone says because she's mean.
I ask how and get no reply.
Someone else says she's rude; they say that she doesn't answer them, that she just stares.
I tell them it's probably because she doesn't enjoy replying to the awful questions.
I tell them to back off then maybe she won't be so 'mean' or maybe she won't be so 'rude.'
Then the girl speaks. She asks why, why I'm doing this for her, why I suddenly care.
I tell her its because everyone deserves a chance -- that we all should be treated equal.
And I care because it isn't fair for you to stand here
And deal with this.
So go -- go and do what you think is right.
Like I am doing now."
The projects of Arreola-Burl and Bailey are healthy reminders that the King legacy is not dead, neatly tucked away in civil rights antiquity, it's simply sung in a different key; and that should give us all hope.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.