Monday, January 25, 2010

January's Heroes

I grew up on Long Island, NY in the 1960s and 70s. I can't remember a time when our public schools weren't closed for the Jewish Holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanna.
I remember the confusion and horror surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In my mind, January will forever be the month of Dr. King and of other American heroes. Sitting alongside my good friends, African-American girls named Lisa, Jan and Patty, we sang songs lauding the ideals of Abraham, Martin, John and Bobby. We sang about overcoming racism, about daring to dream of equality for all (the audacity of hope?).
When George Wallace ran for president, a truly worried, breathless Jan leaned in after a lesson that included discussion of the then-current presidential race, and in an urgent whisper asked me "Do you know that if Wallace wins we'll never see each other again? We'll be separated!"
Our eyes welled with tears as we silently, fearfully, stared at each other, trying to process what we saw as a brutal threat, a horrible reality.
Decades later, my eyes welled with tears once more as astonished, I drank in the victory of our first, for all intents and purposes, African- American president.
I was awed by the American people. Awed that a majority of voters could actually bring themselves to cast a vote for a relatively young, by appearance, black, man. I honestly didn't believe that when push came to shove, the voters of this county would enter a polling place and cast a ballot for a black man.
I truly believed that the wildly enthusiastic support for Obama was largely lip service. I have never been prouder to be an American than on the day a black man won the presidency.
I am an Independent. I've never been a "one-party gal"(pun intended!). I've never blindly followed any political party, and , yes, I was deeply and painfully disappointed when Hilary Clinton lost her bid for the nomination.
But the day that America put its money where its mouth is, so to speak, was one of the proudest, most emotionally stirring days of my life.
On Inauguration Day, I picked my little guy up from school. We watched the inauguration online in our kitchen among red,white and blue balloons and a front-page picture of President Obama posted on the fridge.
We feasted on "Obama butter cookies," (peanut butter) and "Barack Brownies." My son saw the emotion in my eyes, on my face, and neither one of us was ashamed. At that moment, we were filled with hope and joy.
So you'll understand when I complain that the school district my son attends does not recognize the national observation of Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday. The kids go to school as if it were any other day.
Oh, sure, there are in-school observations, this year's was an online scavenger hunt for facts relating to Dr. King (my son was not impressed or satisfied). And likely, many kids would simply sleep late, play video games, and cause their parents to lose a day's pay.
But I feel that it's just a slap in the face to the entire Civil Rights movement and to all of those involved- all of those who remember- that the day is not a school district holiday.
I am personally insulted by what I see as a tremendous slight.
There aren't a lot of African-American people here in this little corner of NEPA, but Dr. King is a hero and an example for the masses. His legacy knows no racial boundaries.
His devotion to tolerance and non-violence must be perpetuated and respected.
The schools here are closed on the first day of the hunting season, but not on Dr. King's day. And of course, the Jewish Holidays aren't observed, either.
I know there are Jews in this area- perhaps not enough in the school population to garner respect.
I'm not an advocate of days off from school for the sake of sleeping in. I am an advocate for respect and the perpetuation of the ideals and sacrifices of American Heroes.

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