We have this day off from school to commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a life he devoted to and was ultimately taken because of the American Civil Rights movement. When I first started thinking about writing something about Dr. King, the children’s book, My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold, came to mind.
“Narrating the book in her own voice, Ms. Ringgold describes a dream she has about Martin Luther King. It’s a dream that includes scenes of segregation and protest–which, in a brilliant leap of imagination, she imagines King experiencing as a child–and scenes from King’s adult life, from the Montgomery bus boycott to the March on Washington to his assassination. Framing this dream is a uniquely personal vision of Ms. Ringgold’s own in which she visualizes the people of the world gathering in King’s memory to trade in their prejudice, fear, and hate for hope, peace, and love–the fulfillment of King’s dream of nonviolent social change.” – from Faith Ringgold’s website
Faith Ringgold has been a favorite author of mine ever since my son and I went “flying over the rooftops” together while reading Tar Beach when he was just a little boy. I had the pleasure of meeting her and hearing her speak when Danforth Museum staged an exhibition of her work and Framingham State College hosted her lecture in 2009. She is an outspoken advocate of women’s art and African American art, having faced discrimination and inequity in these efforts throughout her life. Here she is speaking about art and the importance of art to society and to the artist:
While I was thinking about Faith Ringgold and her paintings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I found myself comparing her images to those of our school’s guest artist last week, Rob Surette. Rob is known as the “fastest portrait painter”, but he is so much more than that. Through his Amazing Hero Art program, Rob teaches us about heroes such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr, to name just two. Last week, as always, Rob had the students rapt attention with fast painting and through his multi-media show, which included paintings of Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and Albert Einstein. Here is a clip of Rob performing and painting Dr. King on TV in 2006:
Martin Luther King was a gifted speaker. His words and delivery can stop you in your tracks when you hear him speak. Today we will hear his “I Have A Dream“ speech many times. That is good and I am glad. The following, taken from Dr. King’s book, Strength To Love, are some of his words that I treasure most: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
These are words to live by, but they’re not just words, this is a philosophy. A philosophy of taking the high road, and trying to remain positive, of non-violence and passive resistance, of “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Most of all, these words are about light and love. Words about sticking to it even though there is no immediate reward. Like Faith Ringgold, painting since she was young although she was not validated for it until she was much older, all the while struggling against racial and gender prejudice. Or like Rob Surette, sharing his light through the words and ideals of our heroes and peacemakers with children in schools through dynamic presentations. Like art, which is a light that drives out darkness as it lifts a society and reflects a people’s culture. As Faith Ringgold said, “You don’t get to have an important or highly developed visual art unless you have a highly developed society”.
How fitting then, that on this day off from school, I am taking two of my young neighbors to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for the day. Although I have visited this museum many more times than I can count, today I will do so with these thoughts of light and love in mind. I hope you enjoy your day off from school today!