By Maggie Jackson, Kansas City Star Reader Advisory Panel
When my mother was a child in the late 50’s she and another young girl became very good friends in Kindergarten. They spent time chatting and playing together at recess. She had found her best-friend.
Since they had become such good friends my mother wanted to have her over for a sleep-over. However, her parents told her that it wasn’t a good idea. She was devastated, but learned from her friend’s parents that they agreed that the two shouldn’t visit each other outside of school.
Confusion followed. What had they done to cause their parents to end their friendship?
A couple decades later I was getting ready to start school and timidly entered the school bus. I was a terrified country kid, but one girl made room for me which began a friendship I still hold dear today.
I sat amazed, staring at her beautiful dark skin and curly black hair which was so different from my own fair, freckled skin and straight brown hair. She laughed at my amazement. She had a bubbly personality and gentle spirit and quickly embraced me despite my shyness and naivety.
After a couple of years of bicycling back and forth to one another’s homes, my mom smiled and told me that I was most fortunate. She told me the story of when she was not allowed to keep her childhood friendship due to the difference in their skin colors.
It was my first real understanding that there had been a time when different races were not supposed mix. I was confused by the fact that once a person’s skin color decided how he or she should be treated. After all, my parents had taught me to look at the character of a person before appearance not the other way around.
On this day when many are providing community service in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I wonder how many of my generation and younger fully understand the struggles of the past.
My own hometown once included separate swimming pools, when my mother was a child. However, considering how little we talk and try to understand one another today, that is a history which might seem more like fiction than fact to us 30 something’s and younger.
After all, how much stock would I really put into the history books if it wasn’t for my parents taking the time to drive me past the building that once held the “colored only” swimming pool, and explained the history of inequality?
Community service is an admirable way to celebrate King, but there also needs to be a parental challenge to include a history lesson as well. If we forget the history and struggles of the civil rights movement, this will become just another misunderstood day.