FORT LAUDERDALE – Throughout South Florida, communities assemble every year to celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In his remembrance, people young and old conduct workshops and maintain other observances to commemorate the many protests, sit-ins and boycotts King led along with the powerful words be shared.
Although many youths participate in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday events, there are question regarding how much they really know about King’s message, the movement and who he was as a man in order to keep his legacy alive.
In an un-scientific survey the South Florida Times spoke with five teenagers and young adults, 13 to 24, to find out what they know and think about MLK.
Their thoughts suggest that while many know some basics, it is up to the “ village” – parents, churches, community leaders and schools – to provide them a foundation in the history so that King’s legacy will last for generations to come.
Trai Thompkins, a 24-year-old customer service representative and aspiring rapper from Greenacres was one of three interviewed. “He was married to Coretta Scott King and I want to say they had four or five kids,” said Thompkins.
He fared better than the others, who all knew that King had been married, but were under the impression that he had one or two kids. The Kings’ four children are Yolanda, Martin The III, Dexter and Bernice.
“Well I know that he was a leader to end segregation and a preacher,” Jah’tory Eubanks, 13, of Pompano Beach said. “I know that he was the youngest person to win the Noble Peace Prize,” said Thompkins. “And he went to college in Atlanta.”
Showing a general understanding of his personal life but less knowledge of the specifics, the youths did not know where King preached or where he died.
“Martin Luther King’s message was that we should all be treated equally,” said Daron Calloway, 16 of Miami. “He fought for our freedom by doing protests and boycotts in Montgomery and all over the south.”
“The message I think that sums up everything is that all men are created equally,” said Eubanks. “And if we’re going to be created equally then we should all have equal rights and not be judged on the color of our skin.”
While they may not know details about his life, they said they get the message that King risked his life to spread throughout the world, and everyone agreed that his message remains relevant today.
“There is still a lot of racism,” said Eubanks. “So his message is still relevant although I think that a lot of people have lost the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because it is 2013.”
Part of this can be attributed to the election of President Barak Obama, they said. “I relate to Martin Luther King Jr., because he gave us what we have today,” said David James, 13 of Hollywood. “But Barak Obama is our president now and he is helping us with the economy and stuff.”
Eubanks had similar feelings. “I think now that we have a black president I believe that people have kind of forgotten about the message that Martin Luther King brought to us. And now the message is that a black man is president, and Barak Obama can bring it to us now.”
The youths agreed that with so much of the school year geared toward preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), they don’t learn much about King in school.
Velvet Clark, 16 of Hallandale Beach said, “I only talk about Dr. King at school and that’s only during Black History Month.”
“I think I need to learn a little more about Dr. King,” said James. “And parents, teachers and other people like family members are supposed to teach me about him.”