As a part of the celebration of MLK Day hosted by Volunteer NH, our state commission for national service, currently serving AmeriCorps members were given an opportunity to reflect and share ones’ own personal inspiration from Dr. King through whatever creative medium they desired. Here is the piece written and shared by one of City Year New Hampshire’s members, Cadence Pentheny.
January 2017. An open letter.
To the skeptics:
Education is an issue of civil rights. To not put an emphasis on it disregards the power in all of us to create positive social change.
To my students:
I loved the joy on your faces when you came to me with books and maps depicting the countries in which you were born but had to leave before you could remember. May you never be made afraid to show your pride in where you’ve come from and where you’ve been.
To a select few members of my family:
Contrary to popular belief, politics are not an isolated, abstract topic that only matter at election time. I have found more home with “these people” than I have ever felt from what you have dubbed “polite dinner conversation”. Your so-called opinion is not an opinion if it invalidates another’s existence.
Make sure your students know the power in their words is still heard, even when delivered with a stutter or a quiver. Teach them how to hold onto their strength and their beauty and their fight. Teach them how to be more than two smooth fists like stones clenched to the top of a desk.
To my fellow rebels and dreamers:
Tattoo your scars gold. Use them as armor from further hurt. I never knew the power of self-advocacy until I stopped thinking of self-love as appropriation of a culture to which I would never belong.
To the man who slurred at me through his open window at a stoplight because of the proudly-placed “dirty liberal” bumper stickers on my car:
I carried your words home with me in the hollow of my lungs. I prepared them for dinner that night, tossed with oil on the stove-top. I chewed the bitter out of them.
Your children are never too young to learn the comprehensiveness of kindness. Pretty much all social justice issues can be summed up most simply as the failure to listen to others when they tell you that they are hurting.
To politicians and policy-makers:
To not provide quality and comprehensive education to all children robs them of human dignity. If we do not even point them in the direction of the starting line, it limits the future options that all, yes, all, of them would be capable of.
To my students,
Think Scooby Doo. Your greatest weapons against the sneaky, corrupt monsters of the world will always be your brain, your friends, and a good snack along the way.
To those struggles that are not my own:
I am here to offer my quiet. I am here to listen. I will not take the words “solidarity” or “empathy” at face value. My hands and my heart are here, whenever you should need them.
To the 8-year-old boy who came into class on picture day with newly pastel-pink hair and black nail-polished fingers:
You are already cooler than I’ll ever be. May no one ever make you feel small for that, even while you still are.
To that one casual Facebook acquaintance:
Our hope alone matters more than your privilege will ever realize.
To newcomers to this movement:
Change is gradual. Do not beat yourself up over your mistakes. Concede gracefully. Ask questions. Let your gratitude and respect shine through all of it. Activism becomes addicting when you realize that it’s always possible to improve our worldly existence.
To my students:
You are enough. You have always been enough, and will continue to be enough.
Sometimes all that love in your heart is going to hurt so much and there will be those who will try to crack your walls and drag it away through the muck but if you learn to give some to yourself, that love could power a lighthouse, and stop other ships from getting lost at sea.