Martin Luther King day is immensely important, but there are challenges around observing it with kids. With my own white boys, I want to help them understand the systematic racism that's been part of the history of our country, and how it continues to affect people now, without reducing the Black experience entirely to one of persecution. In the other direction, no more do I want to make Dr. King's legacy into a feel-good story about the power of love and positive thinking—the kind of message that lets spokespeople for the current president claim King would have opposed the impeachment effort as dangerous and divisive. Even avoiding those two extremes, any talk about non-violent resistance has to be balanced with the reality that non-violence is really hard, and that sometimes it feels like, to oppose oppression, violence should be the answer. Those are the things I'm talking about with my 10-, 8-, and 5-year-old.
I also read Martin's Big Words to my Kids Church class yesterday, and got a few different reactions. One boy, who's black, told me he didn't like the story because it's scary. Another, biracial, said it was boring because he's heard it a million times—"but there's a cool part when his house gets bombed!" About half of the kids had already heard the book in school, which seems good. But how many third-grade classrooms are equipped to handle the nuances the discussion requires?!