peaceful changemakers

Basically, I think that Madeleine Rogin is a genius and I hope this curriculum (and others like it) spreads like wildfire.  To know that there are people working so diligently to affect positive change at a core and fundamental level is truly invigorating to me.  It makes me enthusiastic about life. That children are being thoughtfully led to consider social justice, peace, and change and to recognize, then interrupt bias…well, that opens up more space in my heart.  For real.

I only wish I had experienced first-hand the benefit of this kind of education.  As a student, I mean.  I am totally looking forward to experiencing the benefit of communing with citizens who are a product of this type of conscientious education.  But even more selfishly, I cannot help but feel a twinge of envy when contemplating the vast difference between how it felt to be a speck of color in a classroom where exclusivity was a priority (as were the classrooms of my youth), and how I imagine it feels to be in a millennial classroom where inclusivity is a priority.  It gives me hope that this is concrete evidence that we are indeed moving from a country where exclusivity is a priority to a country that takes more pride in inclusivity.  At high levels.  Where it counts.

So, on this 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, I contemplate:

What was the problem he faced?

Who was involved or affected?

Why was it hard to solve this problem?

And was it solved?

How to Teach Kids about Race and Social Justice: One Teacher’s Approach

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Kindergarten

When it came time to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. to my Kindergarten students, I found myself struggling to communicate who he was. I wanted to convey the themes that stood out to me the most about Dr. King: courage, standing up for a community, and using peaceful means to bring about big, important social changes. But I didn’t know what was developmentally appropriate for five and six year olds. Should I tell them about his assassination?  Should I talk to them about race and racism? Would learning the truth about racism and segregation be too much for them to handle and create divisions in my diverse classroom? Would my students feel burdened or overwhelmed with this information?

For years, I tried to talk about Dr. King without talking about racism. I thought my students would understand the themes of courage, social justice and empathy by talking in general terms about Dr. King’s dream of an inclusive world. But our conversations in class did not convey these themes and my students did not seem to understand the significance of who Dr. King was and what he did. And, inevitably, some of the truth would come out—through a comment from a student who had prior knowledge about the story, or a conversation on the playground between a kindergartener and an older child. I realized that it was my responsibility to tell this story in a way that would effectively communicate the themes I most wanted my students to understand and, in order to do that, I would have to look deeper into our curriculum and face my own discomfort around talking about racism with my students.

I met with my kindergarten team and began an inquiry into our curriculum.  We asked ourselves:  how can we teach the themes of courage, justice, inclusivity and making change through peaceful means to our young students? And how can we do this in a way that is developmentally appropriate and includes all the voices in our classrooms?

The result of this inquiry has led to the “Peaceful Changemakers” curriculum in kindergarten, and, now, influencing the way that first through fourth grade teachers talk about issues of environmentalism, civil and human rights. Through this curriculum, students learn about many people who work toward making the world a better place through peaceful means.  We realized that in order for our students to have a deeper understanding of Dr. King we would need to integrate the ideas around making big, important changes into our curriculum. We would need to start talking about these themes months before Dr. King’s birthday, so that our students could practice exploring the ideas and having conversations about what it means to stand up for a community and make change before they learned about Dr. King.

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We start by studying Dr. Seuss’s the Lorax, and we call the Lorax a “changemaker” because he spoke for the trees. Students answer the following questions about the Lorax: What was the problem he faced? Who was involved or affected? Why was it hard to solve this problem? And was it solved? From there, we learn about Dr. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for planting trees in Kenya. As we learn about these changemakers, students take action to solve problems in their local community.  We work to restore the watershed by planting native trees at a nearby creek and go on trash walks through the local parks. We hang signs around their school educating our school community about how trash on the ground eventually makes its way into the ocean.

Students also honor changemakers from their own families and communities, and family members come into the classroom to present their changemakers. Some of these changemakers are tutors in schools, work in orphanages in other countries, educate others about the importance of reusing and recycling, or turn parking lots into neighborhood parks.

There were also important changes we made to the discussion of Dr. King himself. Through our research, we discovered that it is developmentally appropriate to skip the part of the story around Dr. King’s death; students do not need to know that he was assassinated in order to appreciate his work. I had noticed that when my students learned he was killed, they would often focus on this violent image more than on any other aspect of his life work. And, without the larger unit in which we explore many people who work for change, students would feel burdened and overwhelmed with this information. Now, if my students learn about the assassination from an older sibling or from an outside conversation, I can point to our Changemaker Wall on which we display all the changemakers we have learned about, both famous and not, and remind them that there are so many people working, as Dr. King did, to make a difference.

We also learned it was important not to skip the part about racism and segregation. Using our changemakers framework, where we ask specific questions of each of our changemakers, our students need to know what the problem was in order to think about how to solve it. There is a universality among all the changemakers in that they all work to make a difference and solve big problems, but in order for our students to grasp the significance of this universality they also have to understand the specific problems. Otherwise, they cannot appreciate the courage it takes to solve the problems we face.

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We also discovered that our students needed support in developing a basic understanding of skin color differences and language they can use to be inclusive with one another. To this end, students mix paint to find their skin tones, write poems about their skin, and listen to many stories about the different shades of our skin. Talking openly about race and racism with our students is also important so that they can recognize and interrupt bias when they see it. They can also more fully appreciate the work of Dr. King and other changemakers in fighting against segregation and racism.

Now, when it comes time to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. in kindergarten, the students are able to focus on the big ideas around courage, social justice and making peaceful change. They have a deeper understanding of their similarities and differences and a greater appreciation for the importance of standing up for a community and working toward inclusivity and equality.   They recognize they can be changemakers too.

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inter-related

universe of souls

In a real sense all life is inter-related.  All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.  This is the inter-related structure of reality.“- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

responsible?

So, I’m sitting here completely stunned by this and unsure how to process it.  It’s not the “possibility” that the government was involved in the assassination that has me floored, but that I have never heard of this trial before.  I wasn’t sure I could believe that the trial even happened.  I came across this on April Fool’s Day after all.  But it seems to be no joke.  The King Center seems to be legit.  The NYTimes made some brief mention of the trial.  However this is not common knowledge.  At least, not to the best of my knowledge.  I can only say that I am truly befuddled.  Yep, befuddled.  The 45th anniversary of the assassination is days away: 6:01 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, 1968.

mlk assassination suit

Assassination Conspiracy Trial

Martin King’s family: share civil trial case that US govt assassinated Martin

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Coretta Scott King: “We have done what we can to reveal the truth, and we now urge you as members of the media, and we call upon elected officials, and other persons of influence to do what they can to share the revelation of this case to the widest possible audience.” – King Family Press Conference, Dec. 9, 1999.

From the King Center on the  family’s civil trial that found the US government guilty in Martin’s assassination:

After four weeks of testimony and over 70 witnesses in a civil trial in Memphis, Tennessee, twelve jurors reached a unanimous verdict on December 8, 1999 after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. In a press statement held the following day in Atlanta, Mrs. Coretta Scott King welcomed the verdict, saying , “There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations. This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself. It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation. The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, in addition to Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband. The jury also affirmed overwhelming evidence that identified someone else, not James Earl Ray, as the shooter, and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame. I want to make it clear that my family has no interest in retribution. Instead, our sole concern has been that the full truth of the assassination has been revealed and adjudicated in a court of law… My husband once said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” To-day, almost 32 years after my husband and the father of my four children was assassinated, I feel that the jury’s verdict clearly affirms this principle. With this faith, we can begin the 21st century and the new millennium with a new spirit of hope and healing.”

mlk w:father and son 1963

1963

TRANSCRIPTS

View Full Trial Transcript>

View Transcript of King Family Press Conference on the Verdict>

KING FAMILY STATEMENT ON MEDIA REQUESTS REGARDING THE MEMPHIS VERDICT

The King family stands firmly behind the civil trial verdict reached by twelve jurors in the Memphis, Tennessee courtroom on December 8, 1999.

An excerpt from remarks made by Mr. Dexter Scott King, Chairman, President, and CEO of The King Center, during the December 9, 1999 press conference regarding the verdict that may be used in support of this family decision:

“We can say that because of the evidence and information obtained in Memphis we believe that this case is over. This is a period in the chapter. We constantly hear reports, which trouble me, that this verdict creates more questions than answers. That is totally false. Anyone who sat in on almost four weeks of testimony, with over seventy witnesses, credible witnesses I might add, from several judges to other very credible witnesses, would know that the truth is here.”

The question now is, “What will you do with that?” We as a family have done our part. We have carried this mantle for as long as we can carry it. We know what happened. It is on public record. The transcripts will be available; we will make them available on the Web at some point. Any serious researcher who wants to know what happened can find out.”

The King family feels that the jury’s verdict, the transcripts of the conspiracy trial, and the transcripts of the King family’s press conference following the trial — all of which can be found on The King Center’s website — include everything that that family members have to say about the assassination.

Therefore, the King family shares the conviction that there is nothing more to add to their comments on record and will respectfully decline all further requests for comment.

destined to repeat history

Memphis Jury Sees Conspiracy in Martin Luther King’s Killing

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By EMILY YELLIN
Published: December 09, 1999

A jury in a civil suit brought by the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided today that a retired Memphis cafe owner was part of a conspiracy in the 1968 killing of Dr. King.

The jury’s decision means it did not believe that James Earl Ray, who was convicted of the crime, fired the shot that killed Dr. King.

After four weeks of testimony and one hour of deliberation, the jury in the wrongful-death case found that Loyd Jowers as well as ”others, including governmental agencies” had been part of a conspiracy. The jury awarded the King family the damages they had sought: $100, which the family says it will donate to charity.

The family has long questioned Mr. Ray’s conviction and hoped the suit would change the legal and historical record of the assassination.

”This is a vindication for us,” said Dexter King, the youngest son of Dr. King.

He said he hoped history books would be rewritten to reflect this version of the assassination.

Mr. Jowers, 73 and in failing health, owned Jim’s Grill in 1968, a restaurant opposite the motel where Dr. King was shot and just below the second-floor rooming house from which, according to James Earl Ray’s confession in 1969, Mr. Ray fired the single shot that killed Dr. King. Mr. Ray, who recanted his confession, hinted at a conspiracy. He died in prison last year while serving a 99-year sentence.

Mr. Jowers, in a 1993 television interview, said that he had hired a Memphis police officer to kill Dr. King from the bushes behind his restaurant. Mr. Jowers said he had been paid to do so by a Memphis grocery store owner with Mafia connections.

In an unlikely alliance, the King family was represented in the case by William Pepper, who had been Mr. Ray’s lawyer. The King family maintains that Mr. Pepper’s version of the assassination is the one that gets at the real truth behind Dr. King’s death, not the official version with Mr. Ray as the gunman.

Mr. Pepper said federal, state and Memphis governmental agencies, as well as the news media conspired in the assassination.

Mr. Jowers’s lawyer, Lewis Garrison, had said since the trial began that he agreed with 80 percent of Mr. Pepper’s conspiracy theories and disagreed only on the extent of his client’s involvement. In his closing argument today, Mr. Garrison repeated what he had said through the trial that his client participated in the conspiracy but did not know that it was a plot to kill Dr. King.

One juror, David Morphy, said after the trial, ”We all thought it was a cut and dried case with the evidence that Mr. Pepper brought to us, that there were a lot of people involved, everyone from the C.I.A., military involvement, and Jowers was involved.”

John Campbell, an assistant district attorney in Memphis, who was not part of the civil proceedings but was part of the criminal case against Mr. Ray, said, ”I’m not surprised by the verdict. This case overlooked so much contradictory evidence that never was presented, what other option did the jury have but to accept Mr. Pepper’s version?”

And Gerald Posner, whose recent book, ”Killing the Dream” made the case that Mr. Ray was the killer, said, ”It distresses me greatly that the legal system was used in such a callous and farcical manner in Memphis. If the King family wanted a rubber stamp of their own view of the facts, they got it.”