This was one of the best mornings I have ever had as a music teacher.
That is a huge statement, yet even as I reread it, I stand behind its enormity.
Today was Folk Dance Friday, a new tradition that my teaching partner, Ruth, and I began at the beginning of this school year. Most Fridays we have taught “Alabama Gal” or “Down in the Valley”…circle songs or partner dances that teach the kids life skills, like making choices (partners) and how to look other people in the eye and say, “thank you for being my partner”. Almost every Friday something special happens as we see children who normally struggle with social interaction smiling, holding hands and being “chosen”, some for the first time in their lives.
Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and we will have a holiday. This week we just so happened upon a Folk Dance that was co-written by Martin Luther King, Jr. called “Alabama, Mississippi”. Our musical notes explained that he had co-written the song with Bessie Jones, who was known for her tambourine playing as well as her music writing and her work with children.
Our second dance today was to be that song. Before we taught the dance, I brought the children to the Smart Board where a picture of MLK, Jr. was projected. And I explained his significance to them. I told them about that period of American history, when life was certainly not “equal”. I explained to them his belief in non-violence and how “sit-ins” and marches through the streets slowly began to wake people up to the enormous wrong that was a way of life. I described to them that a crippled, old black woman carrying groceries would have to make her way to the back of a crowded bus while young, healthy white men sat in all the front seats, glaring at her with hatred as she caused a delay in the bus leaving. I described how young, black men and women were spit on, called names and treated worse than animals.
The children sat silently and listened. This is new to them. It is not their reality.
I finished my introduction with quotes from the “I have a dream” speech. Then we got up and danced.
We sang and danced in one big circle, holding hands. Children of all nationalities, religions, races, and family situations. Ruth and I chose several children to come to the middle and play tambourines, in honor of Bessie Jones.
When we finished the children sat down.
“Boys and girls”, I said while choking back tears. “It occurs to me that we are fulfilling Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream this morning. As we are dancing together, holding hands…I think he would be very proud to see this.”
And the children began to clap. We all clapped together. And class was over.
“I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.