A President, Dr. King, and My High School: Forward

Long ago, back when microwaves were new and we still used VHS tapes, I spent many long afternoons in the Journalism room at my old high school in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. During one of those late nights when we were rushing to get the school newspaper together (times I still think about and cherish more than any grown woman really should) I wrote an article arguing Martin Luther King Day should be celebrated by my high school.

At the time South Lake High did not recognize the holiday and if you were lucky one of your teachers might make you do a worksheet about Dr. King’s life…but I honestly don’t remember ever even doing that much.

We were a predominantly white school. Detroit was literally across the railroad tracks. You would never have known it was a holiday, or even an important day in history if you walked our halls in late January. Yet all around us Dr. King’s legacy was being honored…but no, not here. It was just another day in privileged suburbia.

My article was printed in the January edition of the Lancer and there were some who just thought I was asking for the day off. Of course had they read the damn thing they would note I advocated there to be LEARNING behind our acknowledgement of the holiday…yes, the angst filled teen in me lives on.


It has been 20 years since I graduated and I’m told there is no school on Monday.

I had to confirm the news with people back home. I’m still not entirely sure I believe it…but there is more. And it is making the inauguration of President Obama and the MLK celebrations that much sweeter.

South Lake will be hosting the annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration with the Youth Diversity Council and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. My child hood friend and fellow alum Edward Cardenas writes,

The event will honor the work Dr. Martin Luther King with a local flavor including the viewing of a student-produced video and presentation of a community quilt. The quilt, was the idea of South Lake Principal Carmen Kennedy, who is also the event’s keynote speaker.

Twenty years and I am finally seeing an amazing change. The celebration of Dr. King’s legacy at my high school…where what once was our all white and privileged hallways didn’t bat an eyelash as his birthday passed. A Youth Diversity Council! Just learning of this (which I understand has been going on for a while now) had me grinning ear to ear.

Yes, the demographics have changed as have the times but we have moved forward. And we continue to move forward as a nation. I’m not sure if the President knew just how appropriate that slogan was when he and his campaign asked the people for a second term.

That, just like my old high school, our nation must move forward and we must finish what we started.

FORWARD, hope, change…those were just a few of the reasons my children and I attended the Democratic National Convention to see the President speak and accept his party’s, OUR party’s, nomination for a second term.

DNC 2012

So as the nation watches the President take the oath of office, I will be thinking of how much has changed since those days twenty years ago. And sadly, how much has not changed.

I will savor the good that has come of President Obama’s first term and prepare for the hard work that must continue in his second. I will think of the articles my children may write in high school, and how they will differ from my own in the hopes their battles are somehow not as profound, not as landmark. Yet I know each generation will have their challenges. Although that is almost the beauty of all of this really as we watch history unfold.

With the change we have already seen, and the hope of four more years…I have no doubt we will continue to move forward.



  1. It’s remarkable what can change in one’s lifetime, isn’t it? I went to Ferndale High, right near 8 Mile, and remember how our school did nothing either, but the vice principal–who was African American–took it upon himself to send home all the African American kids he met at the door on MLK day. It was controversial and weird, but I understand his frustration.

  2. Proof that progress DOES happen, even if some people have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. A good reminder for those of us doing the dragging.

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