I was driving with my niece Wendi and I had just finished explaining why manhole covers are round when Wendi asked something a little more challenging.
“Why am I off of school today?”
“It’s MLK Day.” I answered, hoping that would be sufficient.
“Well, It’s short for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” I told her as I recalled my own youth, in the way I would badger my mother with questions as a child. “why is the sky blue, Why do cats walk of four legs, why is concrete hard, and why can we see through glass?”
I knew this question was one that I need to be very clear and particular in my answer. This was something that she actually might remember for a long time.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a man, in the past, who stood up for other people and became a voice for them when they didn’t have one for themselves.”
I felt like I had just delivered a perfect preamble to a sermon.
“Why didn’t they have voices?” she asked.
“It’s not that they didn’t have voices. It’s the fact that he spoke for them. That he rallied them around a common belief and an empowering vision. He taught them to stand up for their humanity and freedoms.”
“Did it work?” She asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that.
“Well, yes the message worked but some people refuse to hear certain things. People still use his words and praise him today, that’s why today is in honor of him.”
“So what happened to him?”
“Someone killed him.”
We both sat for a few moments in silence and she turned and said. “Did they kill him for the same reason they killed Jesus?”
I was struck by the wisdom of youth. “Yes, I suppose they did.”