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.

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