Friday, January 23, 2004


Events in Omaha bring up the need to review how schools are marking Martin Luther King Day. In at least this case, they seem to have been doing the exact opposite of what he stood for. Schools and the community might want to put heads together to come up with innovative ways to make the points we want to make with kids about racism, without some of the abuses of time, money and meaning that we see with MLK Day.

Here’s what happened:

Four students were punished for putting up 150 posters on classroom doors and lockers at Omaha Westside High School this week, urging teachers to vote for a boy named Trevor for the school’s annual Martin Luther King Day “Distinguished African-American Student Award.”

Trevor is white. But his family moved here from Johannesburg, South Africa, six years ago.

The students claimed to be making fun of the hypocrisy of Westside’s eight-year practice of giving the award strictly to a black senior.

There are fewer than 70 black students in Westside’s enrollment of over 1,800.

At any rate, Trevor was suspended for two days for hanging the posters. Two friends were disciplined and a fourth was punished for circulating a petition in their defense the next day.

It’s possible that the parents have a case for violations of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression, unless Trevor and his friends violated a school policy about having posters OK’ed in the office before they go up.

It’s just hoped that this won’t go on their permanent records since that would stain their reputations as “racists.”

I don’t think they are. I think they “get it” that the spirit of Martin Luther King Day is about unity, not making one’s skin color the reason for either discrimination or an award. I think they know there were plenty of whites in the civil rights movement who got in there and did something about racism, and still do today.

I think those students understand what Dr. King meant when he said:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

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