Making Martin Luther King Jr.’s message relevant for today’s students | PostIndependent.com

Making Martin Luther King Jr.’s message relevant for today’s students

Keeping the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s messages of equality, pride in oneself and respect for others relevant for 21st century students isn't as difficult as it might seem five decades removed.

In fact, it's a message that resonates as loud in many corners today, on the anniversary of the civil rights leader's birth, as it did then, say area educators charged with teaching about MLK and his importance in U.S. history.

As the 50th anniversary of King's assassination approaches this April, "there's still a lot of work to be done," some Glenwood Springs Middle School students observed Friday as they took time during their weekly house meeting to talk about MLK's legacy.

"Kids just naturally know even today why it's such a relevant message," GSMS Principal Joel Hathaway said after the discussion. "There are so many mixed messages coming from the media and our national dialogue right now, where people can't communicate and get along.

"I think the kids see Dr. King's message as a refreshing return to truth, honestly," he said. "When people are talking about fake news this and that, it's nice to hear something that is so unequivocally true today and always."

It's more than a day off from school, Hathaway reminded the students.

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"It's important to make a big deal out of it, to honor it, and to celebrate it," he said.

At the new Riverview School, which includes students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, teacher Matt Stanley's media class has spent the last week video-recording announcements that included quotes from MLK and his wife, Coretta Scott King, to be played in each classroom at the start of the school day.

"We've tried to get all of the ages involved, and have the middle schoolers be a model for the little kids, and to speak to the importance of the holiday," Stanley said. "It's also important to ask the students what injustices they see today, and how that message is brought alive in their own lives."

Riverview humanities teachers Paige Hahn and Paul Dudley also took time in their classes recently to talk about King's message in relation to the dual-language school's mission and its celebration of diversity.

"Riverview's mission includes a statement about encouraging students to become 'multicultural agents of change' within the community," Hahn said. "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message is extremely relevant today as a reminder to kids that change is possible, as encouragement to take a stand when necessary, and as an opportunity to continue to grow."

That includes "looking beyond outward appearance, which often assumes a strong role in middle school, and, instead shifting focus and value onto a person's character," she said.

During the school's Crew classes, students have spent time reading MLK quotes, watching his landmark "I Have a Dream" speech, and learning about his life and times.

Guiding the Friday conversation at GSMS was a question posed by King in one of his many sermons: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

Principal Hathaway shared his own personal experience serving a school in Asheville, North Carolina, before coming to Glenwood Springs. His school there was made up of about a third African American students, a third Spanish speaking, and a third white.

"We had great kids in every part of that demographic, but it did make it hard at times to get along and understand each other … and there were issues we had to get through in order for everybody to feel safe," he shared with the Glenwood students.

"What I love about this school is that, sure, there are times when we get into arguments and people disagree, but in general we work really hard at being a crew," Hathaway said. "Everybody belongs, and that's a huge value for your teachers, and for me, and for your parents, and for this school."

Students also had an opportunity to view a video excerpt from an Oct. 26, 1967, address King gave to students at Barrett Junior High School in Philadelphia.

Hathaway stumbled across the grainy, black-and-white video on YouTube, which had just been dug up only a couple of years ago by one of the students who was in the audience at the time and happened to film the occasion.

It's relevance, he noted, is that King was speaking to a group of students who were the same age as today's middle school students. "It's you, he was talking to you," Hathaway related.

In the address, King talks about setting a blueprint for their young lives, saying, "what you decide now at this age may well determine which way your life shall go …

"A building is not well erected without a good, sound and solid blueprint," King adds. "Each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives. The question is whether you have a proper, solid and sound blueprint."

King then offered that each of their blueprints should include two things:

One, "A deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own 'somebodyness.' Don't allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count … and always feel that your life has ultimate significance."

Second, "You must have as a basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor."

In her crew classes at GSMS, sixth grade humanities teacher Beth Ullom said students were reminded of the importance of King's message, "and why we still celebrate and take a day off to acknowledge his accomplishments."

And, Ullom added, "that we still have work to do."

Here’s what some Glenwood Middle schoolers had to say about MLK

Riverview School 8th graders

• “The fact that he fought for other people’s rights and wasn’t thinking solely about only his benefits is very compassionate. He risked his life to make sure he and all other humans got equal rights and the respect they deserve.” — Adan Silva

• “I think it changed a lot about how everybody sees each other. We were all born equal despite our differences.” — Taylor Adis

• “MLKs message spreads diversity more in school and in the community, which is important, because his message says everyone should have the same rights and it helps people feel less alienated.” — Jary Martinez

• “The message is important because it reminds us that we’re all equal and that we shouldn’t put other people down due to differences.” — Sayre Harris

• “I think it is important because it shows that we’re all humans and race, color, and religion shouldn’t be a way of determining how we treat people.” — Kailey Murphy

• “I think it’s important because everyone deserves rights no matter their race.” — Jackie Castilla Mendoza

• “MLK’s message is important today because it reminds us we have the power to make change in the world.” — Emylee High

• “Instead of focusing and judging based on differences, MLK explains that we should focus on what’s inside. You have to be a good person at the end of the day, and you can be a good person no matter what skin color, religion or background you have.” — Rance Pillans

Glenwood Middle School students

• “His message means that it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, it’s just about who you are as a person.” — Alden Turner, 7th grade

• “MLK’s message means to me that everyone should be treated the same, and it doesn’t matter your race, or your color or anything. Everyone should be included.” — Dakota Aguirre, 7th grade

• “His (I Have a Dream) speech means to me that everyone should be treated equal, and that no matter how different you look on the outside we’re all basically the same on the inside. It means that anyone can do anything, and we should all treat everyone equal.” — Gracie Stewart, 8th grade

• “I learned that he tried his best making the rights for the African American to be together with the white people. His message is important today because he finally achieved his goal … now we have all the rights so everyone is together, and we can be friends and communicate, and not be enemies.” — Iuliana Corotchi, 6th grade