Last summer I took my kids to Graceland. It was a last minute, spontaneous trip. It took us two days to drive there. I really had no plans. After we took part in the cheapest tour available we perused the gift shops and some of us (okay me, just me) danced through the parking lot singing Elvis songs. "Now what?," asked one of my kids when we climbed back into our minivan.
"Well, I have no idea," I honestly told them. "I guess we should find a place to sleep and then see what's interesting in Memphis."
It turns out there's a lot of interesting in Memphis....there's energy and history and heartache and joy and music and rivers and bridges and people and conflict and more music.
We drove by the famous Beale Street with it's loud blues-y music and barbecue and motorcycles and happy drunk people. We drove along the banks of the Mississippi River. We stopped in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Museum.
The museum was closed but we got out of the car to get a closer look. As we walked up the street toward the museum, a bar on wheels zipped past us with happy drunk people squealing in delight while they pedaled. We walked past a protester sitting quietly next to a sign about disenfranchisement (turns out the protester is as famous as the museum, she's been protesting for over 20 years). The sun was setting and casting a strange light on the whole scene. It was surreal.
My kids are more familiar with Martin Luther King Jr than Elvis They were reverent, they were respectful. The outside of the museum looks exactly as it did the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Some people have described it as eerie. I would describe it as heavy and haunting.
Even though the museum was closed, there were video monitors outside and the kids watched and listened to the stories. We talked about what life was like in the 1960s especially in the South. We talked about what life is like now. We talked about Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy. We talked about how we fit into it all.
It was an interesting time to be driving with my kids in the South and having these conversations. It was the summer the tragic racially motivated shooting happened in a Charleston church, it was the summer the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, it was the summer that conversations got louder about taking down the Confederate flag on government buildings. Driving through Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama and back to Michigan with my kids and talking about all of it and seeing so much will be one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life.
But just like in the parking lot of Graceland, I find myself saying "now what?" How do I keep those conversations going? How do I keep trying to figure out how we fit in all of this? This being a world like Memphis full of injustice, but also history and heartache and joy and music and rivers and bridges and people and conflict and more music. How do we live the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. every day?
The only thing I can figure out is the way to live the legacy is caring and then doing....doing whatever we can. Raise kids that are aware of history and compassionate and empowered to create change. Be kind to people. Volunteer. Donate clothes. Serve food. Raise money for the community center or the charity that helps sick kids. Run for office. Get involved. Protest. Make something better. Sit by a bedside of a sick friend. Shovel the driveway of a neighbor. Vote. Teach. Preach. Get a platform. Practice compassion. Listen. Learn. Paint. Write the check. Lift up. Don't judge. Be patient. Put love and light into the world.
And jump at opportunities to serve whenever we can. I live in a town north of Detroit and south of Flint. Two cities that need so much more love and light. I can't solve all the problems but I can do something. I can let people know how they can help. I can talk to my kids about it. I can donate water to Flint (to learn more about the Flint water crisis click here). I can volunteer at Cass Community Social Services in Detroit. And so can you.
Here's how to help Flint:
A fund has been established to address the short- and long-term needs of Flint children exposed to lead through contaminated drinking water. Donations can be made at www.flintkids.com.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 39020 Five Mile in Livonia, is asking for gallon jugs of water to be dropped off at the church by Jan. 30. Volunteers will take the donations to be distributed in Flint. Call 734-464-0211.
Flint Community Schools is accepting cash donations and bottled water. Call the district's finance office at 810-767-6030 about cash donations. Bottled water drop-offs can be coordinated by calling 810-760-1310.
Donations are being accepted by the United Way of Genesee Count.: Visit unitedwaygenesee.org and click on the "GIVE" button. There's an option to support the Flint Water Project. Call 810-232-8121 for details. A new phase for outreach is investment in services to help residents who have been exposed to contaminated water.
Catholic Charities of Genesee County accepts cash or bottled water donations to aid soup kitchens and warming centers, call 810-785-6911.
To help Flint community activists who are delivering water: Call Melissa Mays at 810-423-3435.
Compiled by the Lansing State Journal
Watch this video about how it's meant to be a day of service - click here. The people in the video say the greatest way to honor MLK on this day is for "people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to celebrate the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others."