Not too long ago, I took some time to engage in some legal shop talk with my dad, who, like me, no longer practices law. I was telling him how unfair I feel the public schools are treating children (like his granddaughter) who have dyslexia. "Did you know," he asked, "that back in the '70s when I was a general counsel at the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, one of my biggest accomplishments was publication of a report applying the principles of the civil rights movement to people with what they called 'handicaps?'" He explained he was part of a team that came up with the concept of a "spectrum" of abilities that as a society, we must accommodate. Our conversation really got me thinking about how much the disability rights movement owes to Dr. King, and how grateful I am not only to him, but to my parents for raising me to believe so passionately in the fundamental principle of human equality.
I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like to enter the "real world" for the first time as an adult, when that world seemed to be slipping into chaos and anarchy. But our little family of three avoided some of it when my dad became a law student at Stanford later that summer. It was during those law school years that my dad found his calling as a future civil rights lawyer. And although I don't remember much of it, apparently I was more than happy to participate in acts of civil disobedience (as long as I had some crayons).
One time, when I was in third grade, we were getting ready for Passover, and my dad decided that he wanted to integrate songs from the civil rights movement -- like "We Shall Overcome" -- into the seder. Something about the exodus of the Jews and freedom from slavery and "institutional racism." I didn't quite get it. But one Sunday afternoon he drove me downtown to his office, and he asked me to ball up my little hand into a militant fist, which he then awkwardly inserted under the top of the massive Xerox machine. We had to make what seemed like a zillion attempts before he was satisfied, but then we copied the final product and glued it on the front of Dad's homemade Haggadah.
My little sister (who, not surprisingly, became a social worker like our mom) and I each got married and decided to build our families through adoption. Because of how we were raised, we both knew we could love a child of any race, and now we each have a child who looks nothing like us. Our upbringing has heightened our awareness of how our kids are moving through the world. We work hard to remain conscious of the discrimination we, as white women, do not experience every single day, so we can at least demonstrate empathy and offer support for our kids who still live within the shadows of the racial oppression that Dr. King so bravely and peacefully exposed.
Thank you, Dr. King. Thank you, Mom and Dad.