Paul R. Lehman, Failure to recognize MLK’s Day has a negative impact on society

January 27, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Posted in African American, blacks, Constitutional rights, democracy, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, justice, Martin Luther King Jr., Prejudice, President Obama, skin complexion, The Oklahoman, The U.S. Constitution | Leave a comment
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Last week the nation celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day and fifty years of the Civil Rights Act. A story that appeared in a local paper (The Oklahoma) told of a mother’s disappointment when she learned that her son’s school was using that day as a snow catch-up day. The mother had planned to take her son to a number of activities celebrating the contributions of Dr. King. When she questioned the school about its decision, she was told that “’It was a very difficult decision to (make), but we wanted to be sure that we had that instructional time back for students.’” The mother expressed her sentiments relative to this experience by noting that “I’m concerned about the message this [ignoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day]is sending to kids and others that the district believes that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is less important than them [The students] coming back after Memorial Day.”
Unfortunately, many parents across the nation could have uttered the same sentiment about the lack of interest and concern for the celebration of Dr. King’s Day showed by many communities in America. Many states initially did not celebrate the day or changed the name or combined it with other holidays. All fifty states did not recognize and celebrate King’s Day until 2000. President Ronald Reagan signed the law in 1983, but the first observance of the holiday was not until 1986. While the America and the world know the contributions gained for Americans by King and other civil rights workers, many Americans cannot accept the notion of an African American being given national recognition. Many believe that the gains made through civil rights are losses experienced by them.
What happens when a school decides not the recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day varies with the school. However, we realize that just the decision sends a message to the community, teachers, parents and student. None of the reasons for ignoring the King Holiday are seen as positive.
When the community decides to forego recognizing the King Holiday, one message it sends is that of rejection of King and the contributions that his life represents to society. The opportunity to learn more about King and civil rights is a lost to the community. Much of the community’s decision to not recognize the holiday comes from ignorance of those contributions and the many people who supported the movement. If the truth be told, many of the programs and services enjoyed by some of these communities are a direct result of King’s actions and civil rights laws.
Some teachers may or may not have studied about King and the civil rights activists that brought about tremendous change in society. The changes that occurred were not restricted to African American, but to all citizens. No civil rights law is reserved for African Americans; that would have been contrary to what King and the activists were fighting for—fairness and justice for all. Teachers, however, cannot teach what they do not know, so if they do not know enough about the meaning of the King Holiday, and have no incentive to learn, they deprive themselves as well as their student of meaningful information.
All parents generally want what is best for their children and they realize that exposure to information that is not readily taught in the public schools is important to a well-rounded education. So, many parents will inquire about courses available to their children and the value these courses offer. For parents of non-European ethnic American children, the information relative to King might help to underscore the meaning of democracy and its relevance in society. For African American as well as European American parents, the information might help them gain an appreciation of the struggles many Americans have faced over the years.
Students are generally the primary beneficiaries of the information presented relative to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the importance of the holiday. When the students learn about the contribution made via civil rights laws and how those laws impact their lives, then they gain a better appreciation of the strength of diversity and democracy in American society. Many students today have no idea of how restrictions were placed on other Americans because of the skin complexion or their gender in work and school. The information they receive about King should lead them to a better appreciation of what it means to be an American. In addition, many of the negative stereotypes about some ethnic Americans could be dispelled through information presented concerning King and civil rights supporters.
In essence, all of society looses when we fail to recognize and support important people and events that helped shape our society. Much of the criticism of President Obama comes from people who were deprived of information about African Americans and who grew up with a negative stereotype of them. Too often we as citizens create problems for ourselves and our community by withholding support that could make a positive difference in all our lives. Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s Day provides an avenue of approach to opening doors of understanding relative to America and our diverse and democratic society.
The mother who questioned her school district’s reason for not taking advantage of the King Holiday should be encourage to not only continue to press for the district’s meaningful celebration of the Holiday but also to expand that encouragement by letting the other parents and teachers know what is being lost to themselves and their students. A community and school district avoiding the celebration of the King Holiday sends a number of messages to the public. One message is that of not wanting to recognize the contribution of this American, and can easily be viewed as a form of prejudice. Another is to see the contributions of King as not worthy of respect and therefore, not worth acknowledging. Still another message sent is one of ignorance relative to King and his association with civil rights. All the messages are totally unnecessary and counterproductive to supporting and promoting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in our American society.

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