Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s as a product of an interracial relationship presented numerous challenges, shaping my unique childhood experience that was anything but easy. The struggles I faced were multifaceted and included constant bullying from both sides of the racial divide. I found myself caught in the middle, not fully embraced by my African-American neighbors due to perceptions of not being “black enough” and simultaneously facing a sense of alienation from my white classmates, who deemed me too dark to befriend. Elementary school became a crucible of torment, exacerbated by the additional hardships of growing up in poverty.
Amidst this tumultuous backdrop, I discovered solace in the world of books and education, particularly through my biological mother’s criminal justice classes at Midlands Technical College. I vividly recall a transformative experience when I was just 7 years old, joining my mother in her English class, where the assignment was to write a paper on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My mother, suffering from retinitis pigmentosa and usher syndrome type 2, needed assistance with reading — creating a poignant bonding opportunity. As I delved into Dr. King’s life, helping her with the assignment, I learned about the profound impact of his protests, the arrests, and the beatings he endured while championing the cause of equality. His powerful critique of the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine widely in place at that time resonated deeply with me, challenging my understanding of fairness. More significantly, I grappled with the question: How can one fight without throwing a punch?
In Dr. King’s teachings, I discovered that the potency of words and the delivery of a message could be as formidable as physical action. His lessons instilled in me the understanding that advocating for others is not only necessary but is a responsibility — mine, and yours, and every decent human’s. The fight against oppression and bullying, I learned, is ongoing, mirroring the enduring struggles of my own journey.
Dr. King’s legacy continues to inspire me daily, reminding me that even as a singular individual, I have the power to make a difference in the ongoing struggle for equality for all Americans — indeed, for all human beings. Though his life was tragically cut short before my birth, Dr. King’s enduring influence manifests in my commitment to stand against injustice and to uphold the principles of equality and dignity for all.
Photo courtesy of History.com