The Dream Upgraded

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Martin Luther King Jr.

 

It all started when we had our ELA tests and the kids were acting out, and really, acting out. After a while, I just got tired of their disrespect and lack of care for their own education, and showed them why their teachers fight so hard for them. Below is the letter I wrote to them on Wednesday, and if you don’t like it, well, leave a comment. It was as watered down as possible for kids who really never got a history lesson about these deep topics. The reprise comes tomorrow. Peace and happy MLK day.

Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday it was yesterday, once said the following:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not go there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m so happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man!”

April 3rd, 1968; Memphis, Tennessee

In his time, he fought for people to sit in the chairs you sit in today with the same teachers available to any other person in these United States without being called a “nigger” or any other terrible name they could come up with for people who were from a different country or a different race. In this speech, he knew people wanted to kill him because he was saying all these things and fighting for them every single day to make this happen. What people asked of him and his people, he did because he knew it would improve his community and hoods like his.

Today, I thought about how each of you, are part of his dream. That you can have a teacher like me have students like you all learning, and thinking, and growing every day. And sometimes, people in our own neighborhoods don’t want that for us. They want to stop us from succeeding. They tell us we’re not good enough for things because of where we come from. Now, instead of someone from the government calling us the n-word, we do it to each other, even though the pain is still there.

Yet, Martin Luther King Jr. walked on water. He took a good risk, even though he knew people didn’t like him and wanted him to not follow. And sometimes, when you’re doing good things, people want to shut you up too. I am here to tell you to stop and think. Think about the people that care about you. Think about your families and other adults that have helped you get this far, and also that want you to get further than where you are.

Then, act like a role model. Help make your hood, wherever you come from, better, with your actions. King wasn’t perfect, but he tried his best every day. And that’s what I ask of you. Try, every single day, and don’t stop until … well, never. I’ve been to the mountaintop too, and I want you to see what it’s like.

Signed,

mr. v

jose, who’s excited for the NY Giants for obvious reasons …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 8

  1. Tracy

    I agree with Ft. I’d love to hear about the response.

    Particularly like what you write about the n-word. I have students in my class who tell me I can’t tell them not to use it, that I do not understand the word because I am not black – that I over exaggerate its meaning.

    liking the new look here,
    Tracy

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    Jose

    Frum and Tracy, I’ll post on their reactions tomorrow.

    Tracy, as a white teacher, I think the best way to approach that word is from a historical perspective, and not from a cultural perspective. Be careful with how you present your thoughts.

    Miss Senora, feel free to borrow my letter. And there probably are YouTube vids, since I saw some last year. I just borrowed the texts from things I already read about him.

  3. Robyn

    Well, I guess I’m not really saying anything new here…I’d like to hear/read their responses as well..so I’ll be tuning back in tomorrow to check them out.

    Also wanted to commend you for caring enough to write them a letter, because righteously, too many DON’T.

  4. Tracy

    Jose,
    I agree with you and that is how I have proceeded. When I have said the word is insulting to me and to others in our class I’ve been met with scoffs. Since we’ve back from the holidays I’ve been reading Underground to Canada with the class. The first time they encountered the word there were giggles, yesterday I noticed a bit of a shocked silence… or maybe just silence, but there were no giggles.
    I think hearing and reading how the word was originally intended – getting the historical perspective – is an eyeopener.

  5. redkudu

    I was having a similar conversation the other day with some colleagues. Our school has a problem with some teachers, and most admin, who allow our minority students (predominantly black) to skip classes and hang out in a certain portion of the school. Any time of day you can find between 5-10 kids out there, and several more wandering the halls. One year, one teacher said at a staff meeting that these kids “intimidated her” because they can be rude when redirected to class. (To which I say, modify your approach to them, because they’re rarely rude to me [or I simply don't notice], or grow a stronger backbone.)

    I was sharing my frustration over this with my colleagues, wondering what message does this send to our students? That we don’t think they are important enough, smart enough, valuable enough to us, to be in the classroom learning? And what message would it send to their parents, if they knew about it, that we allow their children to miss out on learning opportunities simply because they “intimidate us” or no one can be bothered to make them a priority?

    I don’t completely blame the adults – the students are responsible for taking advantage of those teachers they know will not go looking for them, but allowing them to leave and stay out for long periods of time on end, allowing them to congregate in an area admin has been warned about constantly, that rests solely on the shoulders of the adults.

    You are so right when you talk about the struggles which have been won for what may seem the simplest (and sometimes annoying) rights in students’ minds – such as the right to be in a classroom. Your students are very lucky to have someone who will communicate these things to them in such a personal way.

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