PARKER GOODWIN & REDIET GEBRETSADIK | CONTRIBUTORS
During the infamous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech given on April 3, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee. Martin Luther King Jr. reflects on the history of assassination attempts made on him. King calls to a letter that he received in the hospital from a ninth-grader from White Plains New York ;
“And she said,
“While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight—I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up.
And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed—If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.”
The next day King’s life was taken, according to biographer Taylor Branch, King’s last words were to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at a planned event. King said, “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”
Through the years following his passing enormous efforts were made to turn the Monday during the third week of January into a governmental day of commemoration for the life and legacy of the King. For 15 years struggles went on through Congress to make this official. During that time several cities started taking on their own citywide celebrations for the doctor. And in 1986 President Ronald Reagan made it official for the entire country. It has been widely stated that the creation of Stevie Wonders “Happy Birthday” was a commission to aid the effort for his commemoration and to no surprise, this song is widely used in the African American community as and the extension to the traditional happy birthday song sung at celebrations.
This A Story takes us to AXL Academy, an APS PK-8 charter school that is focused on expeditionary learning. This learning style focuses heavily on adventurous and meaningful interaction and for 13 years right along the Jewell corridor, this academy has committed itself to student voice in a unique way. So much so, that at the 35th annual Denver Martin Luther King Jr. parade, amongst nearly 75,000 participants, representatives and students from the school marched together in harmony for his legacy. In this A Story exclusive, we sit-down with 7th grader Parker Goodwin and 8th grader Rediet Gebretsadik and analyze the state of MLK day.
My name is Parker, I was born in New York. I lived there for about 10 years just outside of the city. We used to see a lot of Broadway shows and spend time in the city. I went to public school for pretty much my whole time there and my family moved to Denver 3 years ago and I went to a pretty small Catholic school for a few years. I currently live in 2 households.
A lot of things that shape who I am today is that for the past couple years, I have to get through a lot of the stuff with living in 2 separate houses and just trying to find ways to cope with that and know that it’s all gonna be ok someday. A lot of my interests include animals and video games and a lot of stuff like that. I hope to finish my education and go to college.
Another thing that has shaped who I am today Is my family and how much they have supported me and all of the things I’ve done – like theater. My mom’s family is white but my dad’s side is Mexican/native American. I’m the great-great-grandson of Supreme Court Justice Harold H. Burton, who sat on the Warren Court for Brown v. Board of Education. I think that’s pretty much it.
My story is really deep. My name is Rediet, I was born in Ethiopian Addis Ababa in East Africa. I remember my parents telling me how much they struggled to raise my older sister, even when there was food and they didn’t have enough, instead of eating it for themselves they would give it to my older sister when she was a baby. I keep thinking of that and how they had my brother and they struggled… and especially having me as their 3rd child and struggling even more. I was like 2 years and 10 months when I came here. I still have little flashbacks playing with my parents and how they just keep trying to have a smile on their faces in Ethiopia and when we came here, obviously there was more freedom and they were able to do more stuff.
What made me was one day in 5th grade, there was a Caucasian librarian teacher and we were telling her something and it was either me or someone else who corrected her because she messed up on something. So, I raised my hand and corrected her and she got upset. Most of the people in that class were colored but there was a group of whites and she said: “You guys will never make it in life and you won’t be successful.” I remember when she told me that, her eyes got red because she was mad that I corrected her. She also said that to this other kid and I told her I would like you to take a seat and the next time you see me in 10 years I want you to think: “Oh, I should have never said that.” You’ll see who’s on top. I remember she was shocked, she didn’t expect that. Also, in 5th grade we had many teachers that kept saying we were gangsters and da da duh duh and extra stuff, before even knowing what someone is actually about, they just assume because of color.
My mom and dad really inspire me. One thing I really want is to be an orthopedic surgeon because I got hit by a car and the doctor that saved my life, I want to be like him. I remember when I got hit, kids making assumptions about me because I’m a certain color and how I “did it on purpose”. My confidence was boosted after the accident and when I came back from the hospital there was a lot of bullying going on around because I would do work and they would ask for answers and I would offer to help instead of giving answers so they could learn. I remember how much I got bullied and that’s why I came to AXL. People said – “I wish you had died” “It’s karma you got hit by a car” and then judging and towards the end of seventh grade I was like “Why do I care?” because those kids would skip class, wouldn’t know what to do in class and they would ask me [what to do in class], and I realized they were just jealous and they were trying to bring me down so I could be like them. After that day, I realized I’m just gunna keep doing good things and if someone doesn’t like it or wants to talk about me, that’s their part, they can do that. I have a good education, I’m living well, I have a good life. If they’re struggling with something, I will help, no matter what they do to me, but I’m focusing on my education. So that really boosted my confidence, not to really care what others think whether it’s your race or anything.
There are many scenarios that have made me. Most people of color I see get scholarships because of sport. I just want to get a scholarship on my education, because I remember when my brother was playing basketball in high school, they told him to stick to sports because he’s not good at anything else and now he’s about to finish his last year at university. And I just want to do the same thing and show people that blacks don’t stick to one thing and they’re just as creative and smart as any other person you would think of. Our blood is the same. Everything is the same. We have the same organs. It’s just color that relates so that’s what made me.
What do you know about Dr. King?
What I know about Dr. Martin Luther King is that he was very influential around like the 40s. I think I’m wrong but he is someone that really started preaching and talking about how African Americans should have the same rights as Europeans. Which at the time was not true AT ALL and he made the very famous speech ‘I Had A Dream’.
What I know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is that he was one of the main civil rights leaders, and he was fighting for freedom and racial rights. I know that he’d been thinking about how African Americans get treated differently from whites.
I know that when he was 15, he graduated high school.
When he was 22, he finished his Master’s.
And 26, a doctorate.
He wanted to make a movement non-violent, like he didn’t want violence like some other people had been doing. So, he decided to step out and have marches, non-violent movements. His famous “I Have A Dream” speech was about how he wants whites and African Americans to be together and not to be seen by color, but by the quality of their character.
And I know that he was also assassinated. He did another speech the day before he died saying how he made it to the promised land and how he’s made his mark and anyone else can
continue this and actually make a change. I know he made a big impact on the world – he actually inspires other African Americans to do things. I also know that it took 15 years to make his death a holiday. And that’s what I know about him.
What do you wish you knew about Dr.King?
I wish I knew as much as she does. [Everyone laughs]
I wish that I knew a little more about what his early life was, I’ve never really read much about that.
And I also wish that I knew who assassinated him.
There are a lot of things I wonder about him.
One thing I wonder is how early in his ages did he start thinking about doing this?
Because he was a priest and I just want to know why he decided to do this.
A lot of people have decided maybe when someone tried to tell them what to do to fight it off.
I know he just wanted like racial freedom…he wanted African Americans to be treated equally.
But I just want to know deep down why, and what made him just do it and step out instead of just waiting there and typing. I just wonder about that type of confidence.
Parker asks Rediet, how did you learn all that stuff about Martin Luther King Jr?
I searched it up on my own time because I was really intrigued. So, I went home and searched up the background history of Dr. Martin Luther King. I read about his education. I remember there was a picture and it said “no matter how educated and how hard he’s worked they still see him as an animal”. Like no matter his success, no matter how nice, how patient, how brilliant, and educated he was, they still treated him like an animal. They do not consider how hard he’s worked, how good of a man he is, but just by skin color.
The Question: what do you see & what decade to you think this is from?
[Play along. Just click on the image for more info]
I see white men walking out of a house. There is a police officer inside of the house. U.S. Marshals are escorting a little black girl out of the building. Perhaps it is a schoolhouse. The man inside of the building looks happy for some reason. The men outside are wearing bands on their arms that say “Marshal”. 60’s
I feel like this young African American girl is being taken out of school for maybe attending school or something else that I’m trying to think and figure out. I have many questions about this image – many “Why?” and “Who?”, and “How?” (1960)
I see a white man pouring a liquid (probably a chemical) into a pool with four black people and one white person in it. It looks like a nice pool house with plants and lawn chairs. The people in the pool look scared and are searching for the nearest exit. 60’s
All these pictures are really making my blood boil. I’m thinking about how we are so lucky to be living in a more stable time. I’m not saying that the world is perfect, but it is safer. I think the white man is pouring bleach or some type of chemical in this photo. This is happening while there was some African Americans peacefully swimming in a pool. I also see a white man in the pool helping some African Americans. (1960)
I see a black and white photo of African Americans holding signs near their chests that say, “I am a man”. White people wearing helmets and nice suits are pointing what looks like a long-barreled weapon with a sharp object on the end and pointing it at the black people. In the line of black people there is a white man walking with them in a suit. Everyone in the photo looks to be wearing nice clothes. I can also see tanks in the background. 60’s or 70’s
I really wonder in this image if the gun was pointed at the white man in the middle of the line of African Americans. All the African Americans I see in this image have a poster around their neck saying, “I am a man “. I don’t like this picture because I feel like the African American men didn’t do anything and are just trying to say that they’re as equal as any other man. The people holding the guns seem very harsh and judgmental. 1962
The Soiling of Old Glory
I see a bunch of people, mostly white people on the left, black people on the right. One white man in the front looks like he is about to throw or stab someone on the other side with an American flag. It almost looks like a march with men and women. I think this took place in the 20’s.
I infer from what I see that some African American people were just walking and all of the sudden whites started beating them up. I wonder why this one white man picked up an American flag and is running toward an African American man that is also being held by a white man? Why are other people just standing and watching? (1978)
Child and a Trooper
I see a white child in a fully white outfit. The child has a white cone on its head. There are 3 black men in uniforms that say “State Troopers”. Maybe this could have taken place in the 70’s or 80’s, as these men could not have been state troopers before the 60’s.
Is this little girl standing as apart of the KKK or is it just a “style” of a hat? Why are there two African American state troopers and one white state trooper in the middle? (1982)
The Call & Response
Common, John Legend – Glory
Nina Simone – Why The King of Love Is Dead (live)
The king of love is dead because he wasn’t full of negativity, he was full of positivity and love and wanted everyone to have freedom including African American, the whites, everyone. MLK Jr. didn’t just disagree with Africans Americans, being treated differently, he did something about it and tried to make a difference; which he absolutely did. MLK said in his last speech before his life was taken that the work of racial freedom isn’t all finished, there are still many things we have to change to have our freedom and I agree 100%. I think the main thing that we have to change is being an African American going to school. I say this because when my siblings were in high school and even when I was in 5th grade there were many teachers and kids judging others and me based on our color. The fact that they assume what you’re going to be when your just 10, where you’re going to work, etc., based on your color is crazy and I think that this is one of the most important things. People didn’t want change that bad. I think they thought that them killing him would just stop his whole movement. I don’t think they expected someone to step out about African American rights, especially an African American. They just wanted everything to stay the same, so they could just have slaves, keep it how it was, they didn’t want change to happen.
The king of love is dead because even though he did so much to start the civil rights movement, he was not able to finish it. Because he was speaking out for people who didn’t have voices for so long and just the people that didn’t want to change really hated him for that. It probably drove them to the point of killing him. Some people don’t want change and some people want things to stay like they were. He was assassinated because some people want to get rid of their problems, and killing the person who began them was one way to do it. Because of his early death, he could not finish the job of giving everyone freedom. Some things are still happening today like racial shootings and discrimination in all forms, as well as police brutality among many others that are still happening today, and no one else can change them alone. We need to come together and make change like King did.
The Action Item
How should we celebrate MLK Jr Day?
Well I’d say we’re doing pretty good. A lot of the parades and marches and things like that I feel are very important and honor him, but I feel like there could be a few more. I’m not really sure how to describe it, more events celebrating him. Maybe lessons about teaching what he did, teaching us about his life and things like that. But, the marches and parades are amazing of course. When I lived in NYC for elementary school we actually had an entire week for Dr. Martin Luther King- we had the Monday off and the next 4 days during social studies, it was all about teaching about his life. I think that was really cool, I’m not sure if it was part of the standard lessons but it was really good to learn that early on in school.
Umm sometimes you have thoughts in your head that you can’t really explain. I have a lot of things that I think need to be added into school about Dr. Martin Luther King. I remember like the day before Friday before we went off to break, we were learning about Dr. Martin Luther King and it was the same thing I learned when I was in kindergarten and like I’m really interested in Dr. Martin Luther King…It’s just over and over many years, I’m interested in him but the teaching is not interesting because it’s always the “I have a dream” speech is the main thing in school. I just want them to change that and think about the other things he did not just the “I have a dream” speech because there are many more things he did.