Let Us Join Hands to Honor MLK, Jr.

Julie Shaffer is a new docent at Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia. This is her second semester volunteering with Art Sphere. She loves yoga, post-modern fiction, and art history and wants to cultivate a love and appreciation of art in young children.

At Fishtown Recreation Center this week, we kicked off an early celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  with a reading, discussion and art project centered around the ideas of equality and kindness towards all humans.

Who was Dr. King and why do we celebrate his birthday every year? The first part of the lesson was to teach the children about a man named Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought (with words) for the right for all humans to be treated equally, regardless of the color of their skin. National Geographic Readers: Martin Luther King, Jr. by Kitson Jazynka is a great biography on Dr. King, written for young children. We also read excerpts of Dr. King’s speech from the book  I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson. We distilled the main concept down to a single and simple word — equality.

Adding visuals to Dr. King’s message. Next we set out to build a poster to commemorate Dr. King, choosing to focus on one of his quotes, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We traced each child’s hand and forearm on manila cardstock, then cut out the tracing. The children then tested out skin-colored crayons on scrap paper to determine which shade best represented their own skin color. We discussed how skin is not actually “black” or “white” but actually colors like peach, tan, and other shades of brown. Once the children chose a crayon color, they colored the hands and added personal touches like shirt sleeves, finger nails, rings, and decorative accents. The final step was to glue their hands around the edges of the poster board with Dr. King’s quote, with all hands reaching towards the message. 

A handshake for equality. The students finished the art project by exchanging handshakes. The image of shaking hands is a universal symbol for equality — two hands meeting with palms facing, and joining forces with equal pressure. 

Thoughts for the week. Before leaving, we challenged the students to think about Dr. King’s messages and try to find ways to practice kindness towards everyone. We shared examples of how to be kind by reading The Kindness Book by Todd Parr and several children chimed in to add suggestions of their own. After all, kindness is free, so why not give it away readily?

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