Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has a very special meaning for me as an African-American adult working hard to live out Dr. King’s dream of making this a better world for our youth. But, I can’t help but reflect this MLK Day that he might be discouraged by the anger and violent tendencies of our youth which we spend almost half of our time in Students Taking A Right Stand (STARS) counseling and trying to diffuse in the ten Tennessee-county area in which we work.
Growing up in a small, rural southern town, I know what it’s like to be judged when you walk into a restaurant, to be stared at and to wonder if your food will come out undisturbed. I grew up being taught that the white man was against you and you had to pull yourself up on your own. I had to work very hard to overcome this anger.
Things have thankfully changed so much. Now, 47 years later, I can walk into a restaurant and eat. I can have a family of my choice with my wife and three beautiful girls and can eat without someone spitting at us or looking at us weirdly. Every MLK holiday, I thank him and God for putting him here to break down the barriers of hate.
I feel very fortunate today to work in a color-blind work environment. It’s so empowering to me in my work with STARS. From the leadership of our board to the Executive Director, I feel very comfortable in making this statement. I understand how much this empowerment influences my ability and STARS specialists who work with young people and share this hope.
However, we have to recognize that our youth of all races and color are being discouraged and impacted by the negative and violent messages from video games, music, movies and even the daily news where the saying “if it bleeds, it leads” is the norm.
As an adult, there is not a day that goes by when I am not inspired by the dream that Dr. King shared over 40 years ago. Hey, I am living it. But there are so many who have not heard the message of non-violence which the high black-on-black violence rate proves. I’m certain Dr. King never said form a gang or grab an uzi gun.
Hate is such a strong word. It destroys a person’s sense of value when one starts hating someone. If we use Dr. King’s message, black on black crime ends.
At STARS, we teach young people there are other ways. We equip our youth with ways to diffuse an angry situation, to think about it before acting and to walk away from confrontation with dignity and patience. When they turned the dogs loose and turned on the hoses decades ago, a wise and strong person resisted violence. Fighting with your mind is such a powerful thing. We try to equip our STARS kids with the ability to use their brain and walk away like Dr. King.
In the end, he said it best, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”