From left: Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School fourth-graders Tonya Laray Macey, Talaya Broadwater and William Toles share how the beliefs and teachings King have affected them and today's society. (Dorothy Rowley/The Washington Informer)
From left: Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School fourth-graders Tonya Laray Macey, Talaya Broadwater and William Toles share how the beliefs and teachings King have affected them and today's society. (Dorothy Rowley/The Washington Informer)

While grasping the iconic legacy and notable values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can be hard to explain to children, students at the southeast D.C. elementary school that bears his name had little trouble embracing the late icon as one of the most important activists in African-American history.

At a special assembly held Jan. 16 in their school’s cafeteria in commemoration of what would have been King’s 90th birthday, lines of eager and attentive students paid homage to the slain civil rights leader’s longstanding fight for compassion, fairness and racial equality as they passed through a makeshift gallery where some of King’s most profound beliefs and visions for the future were depicted.

“On Jan. 15, we began to celebrate Dr. King’s life and works with a morning meeting where our students had the opportunity to listen to and watch [a video of] the book, “Martin’s Big Words” said MLK Elementary Principal Angel Hunter.

Hunter, who has led the Ward 8 school since 2015, said that although many of her students were “already aware of King’s fight for equality,’ as part of the school’s Social Emotional Learning initiative, ‘they learned so much more about him by visiting several stations [in the cafeteria] where the saw different parts of his life,” including his membership in the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.

“They also saw some of the items we’ve been given over the years, such as the bust of Dr. King, his [commemorative] postage stamp, as well as some works done by each class that tells what Dr. King means to them,” Hunter said.

Listening to them talk, it’s evident the school’s inquisitive students have a keen understanding of King’s leadership during the civil rights movement and over the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that sought to end racial discrimination against Black people.

They also recall learning that the Morehouse College graduate had been married for nearly 15 years to Coretta Scott King — when at age 39 — he was assassinated April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tenn.
However, more importantly, the students learned to respect King’s stance against violence and that he achieved both his political goals sans violence, while continuing to fight for unity between Blacks and Whites.

“That’s exactly right,” said fourth-grader Tonya Laray Mackey, 9. “Because of Martin Luther King’s beliefs, Black people can go where we want and to do whatever we want. … He was a man who fought for peace and he didn’t do it with his fists. He protested the right way.”

Fellow fourth-grader Talaya Broadwater, 9, nodded in agreement.

“Dr. King is so important, because he always fought for love and not hate,” Talaya said. “He dreamed that Black and White people could connect so that they could be friends. He always fought for equality — and that only love can drive out hatred.”

William Toles, 10, added that because of King’s impact on society, “more people have learned to be loving and kind.”

The pensive fourth-grader paused momentarily before continuing.

“Oh, and Dr. King would want us to not be mean or racist to one another,” he said. “He’d definitely want none of that, because it would be like we were [intentionally] showing hate and disrespect for other people, their beliefs and their cultures.”

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