Fight, Flight or . . . What?
Martin Luther King Day is on Monday 18 January
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to consider non-violent ways in which we might fight hurt, opposition and injustice.
Preparation and materials
- Have available a selection of clips from the BBC Newsround website at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/51167415 and the means to show them during the assembly.
It is suggested that you use the first and third clips, but you may wish to choose others.
- Have available the YouTube video ‘Stevie Wonder - Happy Birthday’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 4.45 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inS9gAgSENE
- You will also need to have available the lyrics to ‘Happy birthday’ by Stevie Wonder and the means to display them during the assembly. They are available at: https://www.songfacts.com/lyrics/stevie-wonder/happy-birthday
- Ask the students, ‘When someone is hurtful, shows prejudice or is unfair to you - whether it’s by text, on social media, in person, physically or emotionally - how do you react?’
You may wish to invite students to give their honest responses. Encourage them to give examples, but ensure that no specific names are used. Move from personal grievances to group issues such as school rules, parental parameters and community limitations.
- Explain that these reactions fall into several categories. Sometimes, the reaction is to fight back, to get revenge, to cause as much hurt to the other person as they’ve caused to us. It’s probably the reaction that most immediately comes to mind. In fact, it’s usually not even thought through; it’s a knee-jerk reaction.
Refer to relevant examples from student contributions.
- A second reaction is to turn our back and walk away. This may be a wise response if we see that the other person is stronger, more influential or better prepared than we are. We try to avoid even more hurt to ourselves.
Refer to relevant examples from student contributions.
- There are, however, consequences to both of these types of reaction.
To fight back usually results in an escalation of the hurt caused, now to both parties, and often includes the involvement of others. Rarely does the initial incident get resolved.
Walking away avoids this, but can result in resentment, deeply felt pain and simmering anger that an injustice has not been tackled. Again, the initial incident isn’t resolved.
- Today (alter if the assembly is used on a different day), Monday 18 January, is a national holiday in the USA. It’s a day to remember the life of Martin Luther King, a man who actively pursued a different approach to hurt, injustice and prejudice in the areas of racial integration, civil rights and poverty in that country.
- You may wish to play the third video (‘Why you should know about Martin Luther King’) on the BBC Newsround website.
Alternatively, you may wish to ask students to recall what they already know about the civil rights movement.
- Martin Luther King believed in non-violent activism. Taking inspiration from the life and teachings of Jesus, he believed that it was necessary to tackle injustice, but by using means that did not result in violent confrontation.
Martin Luther King offered a third reaction. He and hundreds of thousands of his supporters took part in protest marches, boycotted businesses where civil rights were ignored, challenged politicians and gathered together in huge public meetings. These actions gave those who felt hurt the opportunity to voice their frustrations, relieve their resentment and display their anger in a way that did not resort to violence.
It was not without risk. Opponents of the civil rights movement beat up protesters and killed several of its leaders, including Martin Luther King himself. However, this method of protest ended up leading to the law in the USA being changed, although the Black Lives Matter movement shows that there is still much more to achieve.
Time for reflection
So, how does this help us in the situations that we’ve talked about? If we cut out knee-jerk reactions and choose not to take the option to walk away, what can we do?
We could involve others who we know will be sympathetic. It does us good to voice our feelings because it relieves some of the frustration. With the support of others, we can confront those who cause the hurt. It may be a good idea to have such a meeting with a teacher or responsible adult present.
It’s important that we also carry on with the normal routines of life. Martin Luther King and other civil rights supporters simply wanted to eat where white people ate, sit where white people sat, go where white people went.
Public protest may also be appropriate. We can do this by standing with a banner, openly supporting a protest organization and writing (often) to those who resist what we feel. This has already started to happen with the climate change protests. But we should always be non-violent.
We are never too young to confront and protest. Greta Thunberg has shown that. Hopefully, with the initiative of people like us, there can be some resolution at a personal level and at a community level, maybe even at a national and international level. Just like Martin Luther King.
Most of us are familiar with the song ‘Happy birthday’ by Stevie Wonder. It’s often played as a request on the radio. What many people don’t know is that it was written to honour Martin Luther King’s birthday on 15 January and to plead for Martin Luther King Day to be created as a national holiday.
Let’s listen to the lyrics and follow them on the screen.
Display the lyrics to ‘Happy birthday’ by Stevie Wonder and show the YouTube video ‘Stevie Wonder - Happy Birthday’.
‘Happy birthday’ by Stevie Wonder, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inS9gAgSENE (4.45 minutes long)
- Further resources about Martin Luther King are available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zjkj382/articles/zknmrj6
- You may wish to show the 2014 film Selma, which chronicles Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights. It focuses on a 50-mile march through Alabama in 1965, which was undertaken by as many as 25,000 people.