“We’ll need to move the couch,” my eight-year-old son told me.
“I need space so I can stand behind the red cubby and put the speech down on top of it,” he explained.
After the furniture had been moved, my son read to me Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
I’m a former teacher so I had a copy of the speech at home, and while my son had looked at it before, he’d never before “performed” it.
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note...a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
For our family, these aren’t just words from the past. These words are personal. My son knows that not too long ago it would have been illegal for his black daddy to marry his white mommy.
My husband and I are raising our son in the same way I was raised—striving to give our child a better childhood than we had.
Beyond our family’s four walls, we truly believed our son was being born into a better world. Ryan was born in 2008, the year former President Obama was elected. A man whose birth family looked like our family had been chosen by the people to be our country’s first African-American President.
It seemed like things were getting better for many groups of people. Two people who loved each other could legally marry. Their gender wasn’t relevant; the only thing that mattered was their love and commitment to each other. We saw female referees overseeing professional basketball games. We witnessed a woman almost becoming the President of the United States.
But the November 2016 election changed our hope and our faith that things were changing, for the better. Now, there is fear and apprehension.
I listened to my son passionately recite: “I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Upon hearing those words, I almost cried. Because it feels that our country needs this dream as much today as we did back in 1963.
Each Sunday, the newspaper arrives at our doorstep and my son sees pictures of protests and demonstrations. And I tell him what I can. That many people disagree with our new President, and our country allows for peaceful protests. We have the right to respectfully disagree. We have the right to do what we can for what we believe in. We can write letters, make donations, and participate in marches.
“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.”
As a family we will continue living our lives the same way we always have—judging people by their actions and not by details such as their skin color, home language, native country, or religion.
We’re lucky; we live in Los Angeles, and my son attends a diverse public elementary school. We hear a variety of languages each day. We see mothers wearing Indian saris, at lunch my son sits next to friends eating kimchi, and while I was teaching, my son was lovingly cared for by a Muslim woman. For our family, diversity is our way of life.
“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit paths of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
I applauded my son when he had finished, and he asked if I had tears in my eyes.
“Yes,” I said. “Because those words are just as important today as they were more than fifty years ago.”