The world and all of our lives changed forever on September 11, 2001. It was a family, community, national, and global 911 emergency wakeup call for every adult. Every one of us has now learned and must teach our children that we are part of a single human family wherever we live. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a Christmas Eve "Sermon on Peace" nearly 34 years ago, and his words are more prophetic now than ever:
"If we are to have peace on Earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools."
We must all continue to pray for the victims, their families, the brave and tireless rescue workers, and our country and world as we share our common horror and grief. But we must also redefine our priorities and teach our children some crucial lessons that can bring great good out of great tragedy.
We must talk to our children a lot, hold them close, keep daily rituals in place, assure them we will do everything we can to keep them safe and secure, and try to answer their honest and hard questions-which many of us are still asking ourselves.
We can also tell them, as my parents told me, that there are problems in the world, but together we can fight them. My parents could not protect me from the daily assaults of racial and gender segregation and violence that I faced as a black girl growing up in our rural southern town. But they made clear that it was not my fault and that I could grow up to change what I did not like. And so I learned how to stay hopeful and work and struggle together with adults to change the world one step at a time.
My parents also taught me that the bad actions of a few white people should never make me lose faith in the good of most white people. They often repeated George Washington Carver's lesson that we should never let anybody drag us low enough to make us hate them because that would put us on their level. Parents and teachers have to remind all children that the actions of a few bad people should not make them feel afraid of or hate whole groups of people. We must also show them that the small group of bad people who did these evil acts cannot begin to match all of the good people who are rallying together to rescue those victimized and the millions who work for good and serve others every day.
In the weeks and months ahead, it is all right to let our children know when we are scared or sad. Dr. King used to tell me how scared he was. But he taught me that we could still move ahead to build a better world. We should teach our children the same lesson, and let our children's resilience help us bounce back. As adults, the most important thing we can do for children now is to love them every day and come together to build a nation and world fit for every child-one where no child is left behind or has to live in fear.
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