Berenice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., recently tweeted:
“We can’t skip justice and get to peace.
‘True peace,’ my father said, ‘is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.’”
In the wake of all that’s happened recently, this MLK Day feels like a good time to reflect on these words from Dr. King. In January 2021, many of us are looking for ways to achieve a sense of peace. Many are also looking for justice. But what can we do in our own homes and communities — especially during an ongoing pandemic — that will bring us closer to those goals?
Our friends at Points of Light recommend making MLK Day a “Day on, not a day off.” If you’re looking for ways to participate in MLK Day as a day of service, their resources can help you find an opportunity to serve that’s right for you. You can also consider supporting black-owned businesses in your community (on MLK Day and beyond!). Color of Change has a comprehensive Black Business Green Book with a directory for every state, to help you identify a business you can patronize.
In addition to treating January 18 as a day of service, families can approach it as a day of important conversations. Here are some conversation starters you can use with your family to explore a variety of topics related to the spirit of MLK Day and the values Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied.
Talk About Service to Others and Changing the World
Honoring the legacy of Dr. King through service to others and our communities is one important step families can take. You might want to talk about the importance of service, especially if your family is new to volunteerism. Start with questions like “Have you ever wanted to volunteer? What might you want to do?” and “What does it mean to be compassionate? How is it different from just being nice?”
You can also inspire your family to think about ways they want to impact the world around them. Ask “If you could change one thing about your family, school or community, what would it be?” or “Do you think it always requires large amounts of money to make change in the world? Are there ways you could make a positive impact that don’t cost anything?”
Talk About Civil Rights and Equality
Many kids know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights leader, but they may not fully understand what that means. Help your family get a better grasp of the importance of civil rights and the ongoing fight for justice. You might start by asking “Do you think ‘fairness’ is the same as ‘justice?’ Why or why not?” “Have you ever seen someone else treated unfairly because they looked different, spoke a different language or came from a different culture? How did it make you feel? How do you think it made them feel?” or “Have you ever stood up for something you believed in, even when other people thought you were wrong?”
You can also give real-life examples to help your family learn from history. For example, your family can learn together about the Friendship 9 and their role in the Civil Rights movement. Talk about the impact of that case: “After the Friendship 9’s charges were cleared in 2015, a descendant of the judge said ‘We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.’ What do you think he meant?”
Talk About Anti-Racism
The work of Dr. King to create a more just world continues today. Help your family understand how to actively work against racism by asking questions like “Have you ever had a thought or feeling about someone that was partially influenced by their race, ethnicity or appearance? Why did you think or feel the way you did? How did you, or how can you, address those thoughts and feelings?”
The topics and ideas shared here are important ones for MLK Day, but they’re equally important on any other day of the year. While we set aside this one day in January to honor the life and work of a great man who worked for justice, we can honor the spirit of his work through the choices we make in everyday life. Talk about these topics with your family beyond January 18, find ways to keep volunteering and making a difference in your community, and whenever you choose to support local businesses, include black-owned businesses in your shopping habits. We can all make a difference if we keep trying.