This week we honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader, activist, preacher and hero whose actions, words and beliefs inspired millions of people when he was alive, and continue to do so today. One of my sons works in a public K-8 school in Denver as a playground and leadership coach for the national organization Playworks. When reflecting on the importance of honoring Dr. King with a national holiday, he asked himself the following question: is a day off the best way to honor Dr. King?
The question made me think. King fought hard for equal access to education for all children, regardless of race, class, or religion. He valued the kind of diversity that is still rare today, and believed that hope for the world lay in people of all types coming together and sharing their lives. Schools are places that can support that vision of unity, and Playworks is one organization that is working to move King’s dream forward. The Playworks coaches who bring the spirit of cooperation — solving problems through serious play, teamwork, and fun — to public schools all over the nation, therefore, spend their day “off” in other kinds of communal service projects. All around the nation, they join people who honor Dr. King’s legacy by serving their communities, a movement that calls for a National Day of Service in place of a day off. Other people choose to assert their civil rights and honor Dr. King by taking part in marches and rallies for causes important to them. Some choose art as an expression of their respect, seeing movies like Selma or the plays about King’s time in history such as All the Way and The Great Society which recently played at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
These tributes and this time to reflect on what Dr. King stood for — the importance of putting actions behind words — inspire me to think about how global education can be played out on a local level. I am asked this question often in my work: Why do we traipse all over the globe when there are so many issues to deal with close at hand?
The answer is that I do not see these things as mutually exclusive. We need active, engaged citizens at all levels. Although I will always advocate for the transformative power of meaningful experiences in other countries, I see equal value in working in your own neighborhood. Getting involved in local communities with a global focus is a wonderful way to expand your mind, learn about another culture, share your experience, and work together with other people in service of this planet we all share. All areas of the country are becoming increasingly global, providing excellent opportunities to explore the world within your city boundaries.
Here in Seattle, for instance, there are a number of organizations working to have a global impact. We have huge organizations like the Gates Foundation, which takes on global health issues, as well as many small neighborhood organizations like the Refugee Women’s Alliance, which helps newcomers escape horrors in their home countries. Some choose to focus on youth education and leadership, like Global Visionaries and One World Now. Others, such as the Horn of Africa Foundation, serve particular cultural groups. There are also organizations that emphasize adult education such as the World Affairs Council and Global Washington, which host speakers, develop curriculum, and put on conferences.
Our schools, elementary, secondary, college and universities, public and private, are also wonderful resources for global-local connections. On any given day, you can hear a lecture, attend a performance, visit a museum, or take a class with a global focus. Universities bring visiting scholars who love meeting local people and sharing their culture, language and stories. The Humphrey Fellowship program at the University of Washington, is one such program. Last year, our family had the wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know public service professionals from Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt who were part of the program. Many universities across the country have comparable programs.
As violence erupts in many parts of the world due to tensions born of ignorance and bigotry such as the recent attacks in France and Nigeria, it becomes more and more important to get involved in your local-global community. Get to know your neighbors, listen to their stories and help out where you can. Each of these connections is an opportunity to increase understanding and inspire action. Make Dr. King proud.