Tomorrow I will walk into my classroom and pray that I can find the right words. You see, the first unit in my senior class is on civil rights and is built around the writings of Martin Luther King. I planned for this unit, picking what I thought would be the perfect pieces to connect MLK’s work to the events of today. I thought I knew exactly how to approach this, and then yesterday happened.
The irony is, I had already decided that we would start tomorrow’s classes with the idea of “the fierce urgency of now.” It is an idea that Dr. King incorporated into a number of his speeches. My students felt it already. They have told me this a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, and that was before they watched their city burning. That urgency will now be tinged with anger and sadness and fear in a way that it was not before. What some of them have only considered an abstraction will now be reality. Now will have never felt more urgent.
Then this morning I sat in church and listened to a both soaring and heartbroken version of “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Like everyone else in that sanctuary, I let the tears flow down my cheeks as the words washed over me.
So now I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But somehow he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, oh
There’s been times that I thought I wouldn’t last for long
Now I think I’m able, able to carry on
It’s been a long, long time comin’
But I know a change’s gon’ come, yes it will, oh
How do I stand in front of them tomorrow knowing that the change we need may be a long time in coming? That there many more times of getting knocked down to our knees? That carrying on will sometimes feel impossible? How do I help them bridge the distance between a long time and now?
I’ve had no great epiphany, no answers to those questions. Maybe the only answer at this point is to let them know that my urgency is theirs, both the long time and now.