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Dear WPS Families and Staff:

Each year ahead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have shared with staff colleagues a brief reflection on the significance of Dr. King to our work as educators. This year I am expanding the message to all WPS Families and Staff, and rooting it in a deeply personal experience.

Thank you.

Bill

Dr. King – Then, Now and Forever – A Personal Reflection

Bill McKersie

January 18, 2021

When I was a third grader in Chicago, my father took me to a march with Dr. King and later to a rally at Soldier’s Field. My father put me on his shoulders so I could see Dr. King over the crowds. That moment has come a permanent part of me: a young boy, on his father’s shoulders, able to bear witness to Dr. King.

Fast forward to January 1999 at Joseph Landis Elementary School on the eastside of Cleveland. I am guest reading to a room of third graders. All students are African American, most from families with significant financial challenges. I visit with the class every two weeks, so they know me. I have chosen to read Martin’s Big Words (by Doreen Rappaport) to honor Dr. King. After reading and guiding discussion, I close by sharing my third grade moment of bearing witness to Dr. King on my father’s shoulders.

One of the students, looking at me intently, raises his hand, and says, “You are Dr. King’s friend!” I quickly demur, “Oh no, I was one of thousands at the march and rally. I did not meet Dr. King. I did not speak with Dr. King.” The student, still looking at me intently, replies, “No, no, you are Dr. King’s friend. You are Dr. King’s friend.”

In January 2021, I am thinking a lot about the young third grader’s admonition -- “You are Dr. King’s friend.” His perceptive wisdom looms large for me these days as we grapple with how to be a nation embracing, honoring and caring for each other, especially across racial, ethnic, gender, political and ideological lines. The last year has tested each of us as to our commitment to care and take stands for the dignity of each and every person. The test continues. The work continues. We must step up.

Put simply, we are being called to be Dr. King’s friend. We are being called to be Dr. King’s friend.
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