I am anticipating the start of the new school year and missing my students. The last time I saw most of them was on Friday, May 18th, our last day of academic classes.
Finals exams were over but I still had one more day of classes with my 10th grade U.S. History students before they left for a week-long science trip to Catalina Island to study Oceanography. We had started the film, Selma, a few days earlier as an end-of-year movie.
“That made me cry,” a student shared, wiping her eyes with her shirt. “Why did they have to kill Jimmie Lee Jackson? For no reason!”
We talked about the ugliness of racism and violence in our country. I told the class that I was born the same year Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated: 1968. They stared at me in awe, as if their teacher had just time traveled and appeared to them from out of the past. “None of this was that long ago,” I tried to tell them, but these are 21st century kids and 1968 is ancient history.
One of the reasons I chose to show Selma to this class was that our current juniors and seniors (including my own daughter) were on a class trip to Washington D.C. at that very moment and had met Congressman John Lewis just that week. We pulled up the trip blog and projected their schoolmates’ words and photos on the whiteboard.
One of the students – a senior who had previously sat in my history and government classes – reflected in his blog post on his emotional meeting with John Lewis:
“When I asked John Lewis my question about how we could keep our moral principles in times of crises, he looked me in the eyes the entire time he gave his answer, the same eyes that “saw the face of death” on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama….he wanted so desperately to pass on this message to the youth of the nation, the message of non-violence, love over hate, and importance of community. “
It wasn’t that long ago. It’s happening now.
“I hope John Lewis is still in Congress when we go to D.C.,” one of my sophomores said, inspiring her classmates to excitedly start calling out names of other public officials they might want to meet in person:
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg! Actually, I’d want to meet any Supreme Court Justice.”
“Trump! I have some questions for him.”
“I want to meet the Parkland kids.”
The Parkland kids: the new generation of student activists.