We are a racially mixed family. My sons and one of my daughters are African American. I’ll never forget the day Callie told me that she would have been my slave if it weren’t for Martin Luther King Jr.! She said it in a very matter-of-fact way. Clearly she and I needed to have a discussion. I assured her that her family was made from a long line of people who opposed slavery, so the likelihood of her being my slave is quite slim. However…what if she had been born in 1805? Slavery, though not personally experienced, is a part of her story. Racism and racial inequality is a part of her story. (Sexism will, unfortunately, be a part of her story as well.) How do I empower her, especially when I am white and have not lived any of the racially charged experiences she may one day face? After our conversation, I felt so inadequate. Anything and everything I had done in the past to teach her about her black heritage did not feel enough.

As a mother with black, white, and mixed children, I can tell you what Martin Luther King Day means to me. It means my children have a role model who stood up for righteousness. Martin Luther King declared, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” He was not passive; he was bold. He peacefully and endlessly fought. My children will be reminded of the role he played in our own family when they see Martin Luther King’s picture and celebrate his day. This day we celebrate and remember his life, it means that my family is safe. No bricks thrown through our windows or crosses burned in our yard as a warning of some kind. It means my children are safe, happy, and so loved. And it’s because someone fought for humanity. He also said,“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I have role models from his time and since, who are brave and stand where they need to stand, even if/when they are scared.

MLK Day means responsibility.

For my children, Martin Luther King Day means these things and more. They are the rising generation. It means they have a responsibility to carry his work on…as do I. It means that they cannot take for granted the ground put down by those before them. They can’t take for granted the relative peace they have growing up in a bi-racial family. They must stand for righteousness and against hatred. They can’t stay quiet when they hear a degrading remark. They must fight for others like others fought, and still fight, for them. They must stick up for each other, and for their fellowman. MLK Day means responsibility.

I hope by adding this last thought about MLK day, I further demonstrate how important I feel this day is to not just the black community, but to us all. We live in a time when people are full of fear. We are so afraid. But what are we afraid of? Are we afraid of the color of someone’s skin? Are we afraid of the hijab on a woman’s head? Are we afraid of the young man with the hoodie? Or are we afraid of all we are unable to control and the unknown? Put those two together, and that’s a pretty scary cocktail that can stir up quite a bit of racism, sexism, and a whole lot of -ism’s. I understand that it takes generations for real change to happen, but let us use Martin Luther King’s life and death as a way to remember where we’ve come and decide to move onward and upward.

It has always been my belief that policies will not ruin a nation – our lack of humanity will. The amount of darkness we allow in our hearts, as a nation, is what will bring about our demise. That light or darkness all begins in our homes. My fear is watching the news and seeing how we treat each other. My heart sinks to that pit in my stomach when I read posts on social media that are full of name calling and belittling people who have different political beliefs, religious beliefs, who come from different nations, etc. We so easily attack each other…why? It is dividing us more and more. And it needs to stop. I argue that Martin Luther King died fighting against hatred. Racism was the vehicle, but it boils down to fighting against that bitter disease of hatred. We need to stop buying into the things that poison our minds and hearts until we are riddled with this hatred disease.

So just stop it. Stop it! Get over your fears…or at least fake it until it becomes real. You’re not happy? Smile. You’ll begin to feel lighter. Start with your thoughts. Tell yourself you don’t need to be scared because that person is only a person…just like you. Tell yourself this over and over again until you believe it. And then when you see someone, my son or my daughter, or our mixed family, extend some humanity. Smile. Each time it’ll get easier until one day you’ll remember what you knew as a child – that we are all just red-blooded…people. I stand with the reverend when he said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”