Martin Luther King Jr. Art Lesson

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Did you know that Martin Luther King Jr. day is not always celebrated on his birthday? Dr. King's date of birth is January 15th and MLK day is observed on the third Monday of January each year. Today we will learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and illustrate how we can create a better America by drawing our dream for the future. Vamanos!

Book: “I Have a Dream” Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Artists Featured: Kadir Nelson and Gordon Parks

"A Dream Deferred." That is the title of Kadir Nelson’s portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King And despite the illusion of progress it should be clear to us all that King's dream has yet to be realized. We can not continue to skirt around the issue, particularly as we prepare to celebrate this holiday. The fact is that racism still exists in America and we need to acknowledge that the attack on the Capitol on January 6 was only a visual representation of the hate and double standards that are currently woven into the very fabric of our democratic society. As educators we can model civility and respect for our democracy. But we should not be surprised by what is happening and we need to contextualize this within a historical lens of White supremacy and privilege.

Many have been asking how art teachers can go about starting this dialogue with elementary students. With MLK Day approaching I wanted to share this lesson on the life and legacy of Dr. King that I feel will grant the opportunity for civic engagement while allowing space for reflection. For this project artists will illustrate how they can create a better America by drawing their dream for the future. We’ll begin with a “See, Think, Wonder” where we analyze a portrait of Dr. King painted by the artist Kadir Nelson. To understand the historical context of White privilege and what segregation looked like we will also view the photography of Gordon Parks.

Do not shy away from critical conversations in your classroom and be sure to provide students with the space to express their feelings/emotions. Inevitably children will have these conversations and this allows you to set up a structured setting. I also encourage you to have the kids lead the conversation while addressing any misinformation. Ignorance will only allow for this seemingly never ending cycle to continue.

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