Earlier today, I visited Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl, and all of the kindergarten classes as they participated in the “King Sing,” led by their amazing music teacher. A former principal was visiting the class today to read from Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After the reading, we sang several songs together, songs that the children had been practicing for weeks.
I should back up. Two weeks ago, Gorilla Girl launched into a discussion of bus boycotts, breaking “bad” laws, refusal to sit at the back of the bus, and going to jail, all in the name of fairness. Gorilla Girl told us about Dr. Martin Luther King and his fight for the vote, for equality, and for a seat. She also explained that King had been killed by a bad man, and that Dr. King’s birthday was coming up. Gorilla Girl was most interested, however, in the songs her class was learning in order to understand Martin’s fight. Along with “This Little Light of Mine,” she sang what she could recall from “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by James Weldon Johnson. It turns out the Monkey Man was also learning about King, so we’ve had several discussions lately about why, in fact, we had a holiday from school yesterday.
As the room full of kindergartners began to sing “Life Every Voice and Sing,” I noticed that quite a few of the adults in the room were either fighting back tears, or allowing them to flow. In this moment, I was filled with a sense that Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl were right where they should be, in a school that began the discussion of equity and justice with a grounding in the emotion and full-bodied engagement of singing. As each child recalled the words and lifted their voices together, they began the journey to making meaning that will return to them in more nuanced discussions of social justice later in life. For the moment, this coming together, this story-telling through the joy of singing together, provided them with a memory of the power of their voices to shine a light.
Or, maybe it is that children singing such powerful words brings adults back to remembering why we teach in the first place.
The Kindergarten “King Sing” — Lift Every Voice and Sing.