Jan 20, 2009

Third Grade Poster

Today is Inauguration Day. I have never seen so much excitement from everyone on Inauguration Day before. Words like "renewal", "hope", and "change" are on everyone's lips. Barack Obama's Inauguration is openly being compared to JFK's Inauguration and FDR's Inauguration. But, because I wasn't alive then and don't have the privilege of time travel, Obama's Inauguration reminds me of a very special day when I was in third grade.

One day, Ms. Kozak, my third grade teacher handed out large sheets of poster board and placed boxes of markers on our desks. She asked us to create a poster to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the Palm Beach County Martin Luther King Jr. Day Poster Contest.

We all diligently went to work on our posters. Now, I had and still have little artistic skill. My sister is actually the artist of the family. She could draw Disney's The Lion King characters before she knew how to describe them in words! Most of my classmates drew remarkable portraits of Dr. King. After about an hour of doodling, here's what I managed to put on paper (a shoddy electronic 2 minute remake- not the actual poster):

A few weeks after Ms. Kozak collected our posters, she announced that the winner of the poster contest was in our class! I knew it had to be Sean because his portrait of Dr. King looked just like a photograph. But, I was wrong. Ms. Kozak said my name! I was to go to Pine Grove Elementary School on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to attend a celebration and accept a certificate!

I was so proud. As I walked out of the classroom at the end of the day, Ms. Kozak handed me a letter to give to my parents. She said in it included more information about the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. When my parents opened the letter that night, my mom told me that maybe it would be too dangerous to go to the celebration.

Dangerous? Third grade for me, was 15 years ago. And 15 years ago, Pine Grove Elementary School was an impoverished public elementary school located in the heart of an economically depressed community. The area was frequently on the news making headlines in crime. Generally, it was an area that most people tried to avoid. But, after some thought, my parents decided that it was important for us to go.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I put on my favorite moon sweater and wore my brand new white cowboy boots (fashion is also not one of my strong suits). I was ready for this big day. We drove to Pine Grove Elementary School and my parents were visibly nervous. We checked to make sure our car doors were locked twice before leaving the car and took out anything valuable. The mood, however, changed drastically as soon as we stepped into the gym for the celebration. The gym was brimming with people. My memories of the ceremony are a bit fuzzy now. But there is one moment that I will never forget.

When I was called up to the podium to stand next to my poster, I was greeted with a standing ovation. The audience was at least 70% African American and everyone was wearing their Sunday best. I will never forget the feeling of standing in front of such a large audience of strangers of all different races and backgrounds cheering. For those few seconds we stood together not to celebrate a poster, but to celebrate the message of peace, equality, and a shared humanity-- Dr. King's message. For those few moments, Pine Grove Elementary School was not a place to be feared, but an oasis to be envied.

An Obama Cookie!

Barack Obama is now the 44th President of the United States. It may have taken us 46 years since Dr. King shared his dream, and 15 years since my third grade poster, but our new President has accomplished the dream. In his inaugural address, President Obama said:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Today is not just a momentous day for the minorities in America, but for everyone.

If I could draw a poster (this still comes with great difficulty) that embraced my dream for health care, here's what it would look like. It would take place in my dad's doctor's examining room. My dad would be facing the doctor. My mom, my sister, and I would be standing off to left of my dad. A nurse would be standing right next to the doctor. The nurse would be holding a few pamphlets ready to give them to my dad. The doctor would be pointing to a diagram of a foot displayed on a computer screen with his right hand. In his left hand, the doctor would be clutching a clipboard detailing a health regimen my dad should follow. A clock would be noticeably absent from the poster. And most importantly, we would all be smiling.

Hopefully, that's what we will be celebrating in 15 years. What would your posters look like? Happy Inauguration Day!

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