With great pride I sat in our local community center the morning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Our eight-year old daughter squirmed on my lap squeezing both of my hands in anticipation. In just moments, she would be called up to accept the MLK Art Contest winner for her elementary school.
She had built a miniature replica of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Her materials included cardboard, construction paper, tape and glue. On the bridge were LEGO figures representing those who marched and members of law enforcement who stood in opposition. In addition to describing the march, she also included a few facts about Dr. King and a separate drawing of classrooms that were segregated (and the children looking sad) and one that was integrated where they children were happy.
In building her award-winning masterpiece, the biggest stumbling block was trying to get the LEGO figures to stand up together on the bridge. Every night she would stand each up and invariably either overnight or during the day, they would fall back down. She tried taping them down individually, using string to attach them to the bridge, and a few other approaches.
Eventually, she figured out the only way to make it work was to stick them together on the bridge using tape.
Ironically, she had stumbled upon one of the biggest challenges to creating lasting change: Getting people to stand up and stick together.
Some rush towards opportunities to put themselves out there. The first day my daughter brought the paper home announcing the competition, she was determined to enter. She had her idea and just did it, not concerned by what others might think. This boldness and confidence come from her mother – as I would have treaded more carefully, waiting to see who else was entering and wondering if my approach would have been politically correct.
In his piercing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Dr. King wrote, “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…who is more devoted to “order” than to justice…” Ouch.
My daughter, like many children, regularly performs acts of civil disobedience when she finds something to be unfair. She is standing up for herself. This is equally admirable and frustrating – especially when your negotiating bed time for the 100th time.
Then I realized – I am seeking order. She is seeking justice.
The only way to cross any bridge (whether Selma or bedtime) is to find someway to stick together.
For now that means when she asks if I’ll stay with her when she lays down, I do. Justice and order both achieved.
Her confidence to stand up, to not be moderate, and even to be disobedient (preferably civilly) will not only serves her well in life but is teaching her dad a valuable lesson about creating lasting change.