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Martin Luther King Jr. How Do We Talk to Kids about Racism?


There is something about Martin Luther King Jr. that rocks my world. His legacy, his message, his death, his voice

martin luther king jr.

Like many of you, I struggle with trying to find a balance between giving my kids everything (I never had) and exposing my kids to the fact that most people in this world live differently, with a lot less.

My sons don’t finish the food on their plate. Do I show them starving children?

My sons ask for more Legos. Do I show them children living on the streets without a roof over their head?

How do I talk to kids about Dr. King and his legacy? Segregation is not a word I like to have to define within this context. We have to find a way, though, to bring up the tougher circumstances, especially those circumstances that are close to home.

Martin Luther King Day for Kids

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” ~ Maya Angelou

How to Talk to Kids about Martin Luther King Jr.

Step #1 – Think about Your Story

I don’t believe in protecting my children from the world’s troubles. I want them to see and to feel the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want them to fail. I want them to recognize our fortune and be gracious in their daly lives.

I grew up in a single parent family. My mother was a math & science teacher (a dang amazing one at that) for nearly four decades. Even though we didn’t grow up with much money, I never realized that we weren’t “rich” until I grew up and left home. It was a shock to me. My mother worked magic because I truly believed we had everything (and we did!!).

You know why? 

Because we had each other.

Because we had community.

Because we laughed and we spent time with each other. We had dinner together almost every night (even though my brother always seemed to escape to the bathroom at clean up time). We worked together as a team to make our family and our home work successfully.

Adversity in our life bred strength and goodness. That is the message I want my kids to hear loud and clear.

We weren’t perfect.

We had bumps.

We learned a lot about ourselves.

We made life work.

In the end, we’re still together and…

we still feel like we have it all.

Step #2 – Where to Begin the Conversation

Acknowledging, honoring, and celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life is important. I was paralyzed in how to introduce my children to such a big topic. My boys are young but I know children are capable of understanding so much about the world. So, keep an eye and an ear out for the opportunity to have the conversations. Don’t be afraid of those moments. Don’t run from them.

Step #3 – Create the Environment that Works for You

I researched all the wonderful and creative Martin Luther King Jr. Crafts and Activities for Kids. I downloaded and printed out coloring pages. Made a peace sign from a paper plate. Purchased multi colored crayons. Traced our hands. We did it all, at least it seemed that way.

Truthfully, I felt that none of it was sticking to them. None of those activities were bringing home the weight of the day, the celebration, the honor…

Step #4 – Find the Moment

Then we were in the car. I fired up Youtube on my phone. Plugged my phone into the car. Searched for the “I have a Dream” speech. Pressed Play. Then I waited. My boys were deep in Lego imaginary play, which continued for quite a few minutes into his speech.

Then the backseat became quiet.

There is something about Dr. King’s voice that draws us. My 5.5 year old noticed his black face in the old broken black and white video playing his speech loud and clear in our car.

For that moment I knew something was driving into them. Then the questions began firing at me:

“Why is he talking about black people getting hurt?”

“Did white people kill black people, Mom?”

“Why couldn’t black people hold white people’s hands?”

“They have black faces but their insides are the same, right, Mom?”

By this time, my eyes teared up.

“Yes. Most of us look different on the outside but our insides are the same. We have hearts that love and lungs that breath. We have brain that think…”

“Well, then, why, why, just because they have black faces did they not get the same things white faced people got?”

Good question, my sweet darling.

I did the best I could to answer his questions. I wanted both my sons (my 4 year old sat attentively listening and processing) to continue pondering these ideas and these circumstances.

I want to keep the conversation going…

…and I won’t wait until Dr. King’s next birthday to do it.  I won’t.


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