Building Bridges…

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“I have a dream.”

A phrase widely recognized that represents the teachings and embodies the speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. While we have heard it repeated many times, the origins of his speech continue to inspire people every day.

Children find inspiration on the daily. As educators, we have a unique opportunity to grace children with the stories of our past that ultimately lead to helping them grow into future leaders.

So when it comes to discussing the historical impacts of Dr. King, it is important to start with the basics. What inspired Dr. King to have a dream? What did he do leading up to his speech? Who was a part of his journey?

“Dr. King is almost a fictional historical character to many young people,” says Tarana Burke, the former associate director of the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, AL, and the director of Just BE, Inc., a nonprofit that benefits teen girls. “They don’t get that they are (in many cases) one generation away from him and that they are directly affected by some of the gains he and others like him fought to achieve.”

When tasked with such a hearty subject, we must remember that we lay the seeds in the educational foundation. Starting by applying everyday situations that children can relate to such as bullying, fairness, kindness and learning to find what makes us unique but makes us the same, are key to providing them with a trusted space to have the conversation.

Teaching children by utilizing arts and crafts helps bridge the gap between who he was and WHY he was so important. Since Martin Luther King was about building bridges — bridges of trust and understanding, bridges of mutual respect and goodwill, bridges of hope and opportunity, we decided on an art project to build bridges using straws.

As we embarked on our bridge craft, we were afforded the opportunity to mix in our educational messaging relating to MLK and what goes into making a bridge. Children could ask questions, they worked as a team to create a bridge, shared stories of what worked and what did not, how to make it stronger while they worked in groups.

Eventually the talking turned into doing. But the conversation and lesson did not stop there.

Once the displays of proudly created bridges were perched on their desks, we found ourselves with another teachable moment. To our delight, the children began discussing how they could build a better bridge next time. That they were excited to go home and make one with their parents or siblings.

As educators, we took advantage of this opportunity. We stressed the importance of sharing what they learned with others. How their bridge was just the first one of many tries. That each time it will get better and better. And just as Dr. King was the first to make an impact, he was not the last. And while they came a long way in making their first bridge, there is more work to be done. A work in progress.

Since Dr. King’s death, we too have come a long way but there is still work left to do. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,

Let’s build bridges, not walls.