Remembering

“What movement tried to end racial discrimination?” The Civil Rights Movement
“What did Martin Luther King, Jr. do?” Fought for civil rights

As a Citizenship Class instructor, I have the privilege of sharing about the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. every session. Before discussing the 1960s, we cover the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and the Emancipation Proclamation. The focus then jumps to World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II before moving to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. The history questions for the Naturalization Interview do not hide the long history of slavery in the United States. Students learn early in the session that slavery existed in the “thirteen original colonies.”

“What group of people was taken to America and sold as slaves?” People from Africa

To help students understand “racial discrimination” and what life was like in the United States for many African Americans following the Civil War and during the time of Dr. King, we often look at the infamous pictures of segregated water fountains and bathrooms. I tend to avoid the darker pictures of lynchings and angry mobs, not wanting to rouse any post-traumatic stress in our refugee and immigrant clients.

In reality, they “know” discrimination in a much deeper sense than me, their instructor. Many experienced racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination in their own countries. The Nepali-speaking refugees from Bhutan, the Kunama refugees from Eritrea, the Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar and many other minority groups that we serve at the Center for New Americans fled or were expelled from unbearable conditions.

 

MLK-injustice-anywhere-quote

(Photo courtesy of AND JUSTICE FOR ALL)

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the lines above in 1963 from where he sat in a Birmingham jail following mass demonstrations of organized civil disobedience. Its truth rang loudly when it was first read, and continues to resonate reality today. I love my job and I love interacting with and learning more about my students, but their daily presence is also a stark reminder that gross injustices have occurred and continue to occur in many of their countries. I am grateful they now live in the United States without fearing for their lives. I am grateful for the rights guaranteed them and protecting them in the Bill of Rights and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but I wonder about their family and friends not here…those still in the refugee camps, those still in their native countries. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” My students remind me that we are all responsible for each other.

Written by Kadie Becker; Reposted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

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