AS THEY TIPTOE FROM THE bedsides of their half-asleep children, parents get last calls — usually bids for a glass of water or one more story.
But a few days ago, my first grader said something unexpected from his place on the bottom bunk in the dark bedroom as I gently pulled the door shut.
“Mama? Guess what? I got third place in the Tigers against Teasers poster contest,” Andy, 7, said.
Anti-bullying posters tacked to hallway walls at Erie Elementary School where a tiger is the mascot spell out the players in this story –who is a bully, who is a target, and who is a bystander — and choices each one can make.
The contest aims to enrich learning by challenging students to make their own poster, to draw and write about what good they could do as bystanders.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Tigers against Teasers poster contest coincides with the Jan. 15 birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed this year on Jan. 19.
Students get a G-rated version of what black people suffered and still suffer at the hands of white bullies through an MLK unit.
Teachers spare them the details of his last days — the bomb threat that delayed his plane from leaving Atlanta for the sanitation workers strike in Memphis; the bullet that ripped through his right cheek as he stood on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel; the hatred he weathered for rallying targets and bystanders to resist bullies without violence.
Yet, they get the point.
Everyone has a playground, and not everyone on that playground plays nice.
Andy’s poster, with its cave wall-like drawings, reflects that understanding.
He drew a red circle and slash across a bully stick figure thrusting some sort of weapon at a target stick figure gushing tears from a submissive position on the ground.
Andy listed the word “No” in the left column under this illustration and wrote, “No teasing. No being mean. No pushing.”
In the next frame, he drew a bystander stick figure reaching down to the crying person to give the target of bullying a hand up.
A list of the word “Yes” — as in, “Yes, you should help. Yes, you should be nice.” — stacks up under this illustration.
When I was in first grade in the mid 1970s, MLK had been dead just seven years, and it would take until 2000 for all 50 states to recognize the federal holiday honoring him on his birthday.
I am uncertain as to when elementary school textbooks wove his life and legacy into the curriculum.
But this addition, along with projects such as the poster contest to raise awareness, heartens me– makes me feel the press of progress as our youngest citizens learn about MLK’s message and good fight.
That is especially true since his work remains unfinished across discrimination’s waterfront, and bullying continues to rock our boat.
MLK wrote as much from his Birmingham jail cell: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”