**I first posted this about 5 months ago. I’m re-posting it today in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday. The conversations with Will about MLK, race, and unfairness have continued since then (and yes, we listened to the CD again today. I had to explain the whole thing again, of course).
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In honor of that, today’s post is not about Narnia. Not that I couldn’t make a connection between Narnia and civil rights (I could TOTALLY pull that off). But instead, I wanted to record a moment that took place, almost by accident, as I drove Will to school this morning.
Back in the early 2000s, when Napster was still a thing (!), I was a mental health worker at a residential facility for adolescents, and I made a CD of “civil rights music” for the kids on my unit to listen to during Black History Month. I don’t remember if I ended up playing it all that much for those kids, but it’s actually a fun CD, and I break it out now and then in the car (yes, my car still has a CD player). I decided to play it today to celebrate the March on Washington anniversary. Will has heard it before and has given it mixed reviews. Today, when he saw me searching through my CDs, he requested a favorite song (from another CD).
“Let’s listen to [other CD],” he said again as ‘We Shall Overcome’ started to play.
“No,” I said, “we’re going to listen to this one today. It’s important.”
A few streets later, ‘We Shall Overcome’ still busting out of my speakers:
“What’s so important about this song, Mommy?”
And here I didn’t even know he’d heard me.
“Well,” I said, “that’s a really good question. “ I hesitated for a second, then turned off the music.
“You know how I told you about how we have laws? You know, about how fast we can drive, not stealing things, things like that?”
I send an unsafe glance at the backseat, where he is sitting proudly in his brand-new big boy booster seat. He gives me a nod.
“Well,” I went on, “sometimes people make bad laws. Back a long time ago, there were some bad laws that said that people with brown skin couldn’t do some things.” (‘People with brown skin’ is his phrase for African-American people. He’s very literal-minded.) “They had laws that said people with brown skin, like your friend L, couldn’t go to the same schools as people with white skin. They couldn’t swim in the same pools or lakes. Sometimes they wouldn’t even let people with brown skin vote. Those were bad laws, right?”
Emphatic nod from Will. “Yeah.”
“So people like Martin Luther King, and a lot of other people, said that we needed to change those laws. They did things like marches to get people to change the bad laws. Sometimes they even got arrested, but not because they’d done anything wrong, it was because they were trying to get people to change the bad laws.
“And one of the things they did was that they sang a lot of songs. They sang a lot to help each other. This one is called ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and they sang it to say that they were going to overcome those bad laws.”
“They also sang them to help each other stay together and stay strong,” I told him. “And it’s still important because sometimes there are still bad laws. Sometimes we still have to do things like marches to get people to change the bad laws. So we still need to know the songs.” I paused for a second and gave another glance at the backseat. “Got it?”
He gave me a thumbs up, then gestured for me to turn the music back on.
‘We Shall Overcome’ was almost over. The next song was ‘Wade in the Water.’
“Let’s listen to [other CD],” he requested again.
“We’re going to stick with this one today,” I said.
“It’s a God song,” he said. He’s gotten a little tired of “God songs” recently; apparently my musical repertoire is a little heavy on those.
“Well, I could go on to the next one,” I said, “but really most of them are God songs…”
I turned the music off again. I know a teachable moment when I see one! (At least I catch some of them. Anyway.)
“You know, they actually sang about God a lot,” I told Will. “Did you know that God doesn’t like bad laws either? God wants us to treat everybody right. He wants us to change the bad laws too. So they sang about God because they knew they were doing what God wanted them to do. And if we try to change bad laws today, we’re doing what God wants.”
“Besides, you like ‘Wade in the Water.’”
“Oh,” said Will. He requests it at bathtime frequently. It has awesome resonance in the bathroom.
We kept listening. I don’t know for sure what he’s taking away from this. But I know I want these songs imprinted on his soul. When he’s a little older, and he begins seeing unfairness and injustice, I want the cry for freedom, the drive to overcome, ready and waiting to sing out.