50 Years Later

Sometimes, a casual conversation makes you stop in your tracks. Back in early January, my dad said, “you know, the end of the month is 50 years since I arrived in Viet Nam”. I hadn’t realized it was. He arrived in Viet Nam right before the Tet Offensive in 1968. He was only 20 years old. I thought for a moment and responded with, “That means this April is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination”. He nodded.

2017 brought my family so many amazing celebrations, most notably, my father’s 70th birthday and my parents’ 40 anniversary. As 2018 began, I hadn’t realized the historical impact of this year. 50 years have passed since 1968, since Dr. King’s assassination, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, Viet Nam, and everything else that occurred in this pivotal year.

I teach in an urban community so all of my students know about Dr. King and many other influential African Americans. One of my former students even celebrates her birthday today, along with Dr. Maya Angelou. History can be hard for students to connect to as it all occurred “so long ago”. When we meet people that lived through something, it brings life to that event. That event now has a story with real people connected to it. It shows us how these events impacted the people that lived through it. It shows us the life and legacy of that historic person.

Last week before our spring break, I told my students today is the 50th anniversary since we wouldn’t be in school today. It caught some of them off guard too and they stopped to think about what I just said. It made me think about the fact that Dr. King was just a few years older than me at the time he was killed. It makes me wonder if we have made progress. It made me realize that many of the people from modern history are already gone.

As one student said, “we are losing so many great black people”. Linda Brown died on March 25. We happened to be studying the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in one class that week. We are losing many of the people who have shaped history over the years. Dr. Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela just two that come to mind. I can no longer say, “she is still alive”. So, I find stories connected to these people to illustrate their legacy.

As we remember Dr. King today, we honor his life and legacy. We look to see is shaping the next 50. Among them, Dr. King and his legacy will live on.

The Next Generation

About a month ago, I watched Schindlers List for the first time. I knew the story about Oskar Schindler and what he did but had never seen the movie. In the end, Schindler feels guilty for not saving more people. Itzhak Stern’s response was powerful.

Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more.

Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.

Oskar Schindler: If I’d made more money… I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just…

Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.

“There will be generations because of what you did”.

That night, I did something else I hadn’t done in a while. I rocked my two-year-old son to sleep. In his quiet room, as he fell asleep, Stern’s voice was in my head. Generations because of what Schindler and many more people did. My own sons and my cousins’ sons, the next generation of a survivor.

As we approach Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) I am thinking about those who survived with the help of non-Jews, like Oskar Schindler and Nicolas Winton. They are called Righteous Gentiles. Non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. At Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, over 11,000 ‘Righteous Gentiles’ are honored. Many are unknown, but they are all part of an extraordinary movement at a terrifying time.

“Throughout history, there are always people who risk their own lives to do doing the right thing”.

Despite the horrors of history, there are always people who risk their own lives to do the right thing. People that defy the status quo and stand up for what they believe in. Take action to do the right thing. Often when students ask me why I teach history, I say, “People lived through what we study. Their voices are not in our textbooks. I often imagine how different life would be for us if we lived during another time and had to go through what they went through.”

“Learn from the voices of those who lived it”.

My own children will never meet their great-grandfather and will most likely never meet a Holocaust survivor. They will know him and their other great grandparents by the stories my husband and I tell them. They will learn about history like we learn about most history. From textbooks in a classroom. My hope is that my children and the next generation of students, including my own students, learn from the voices of those who lived it. My hope is that they listen to those voices, learn valuable lessons and make the world a better place in honor of those who came before us.