SIOUX CITY | Riverside Elementary School students were reminded Monday there’s still a lot to learn from the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. nearly 45 years after he was assassinated.
Students throughout the Sioux City school district marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day by reading books and watching videos about the leader who advocated for racial equality during the civil rights movement.
Third-grade students in Tami Voegeli’s classroom in Riverside Elementary were excited to see their schedule included a guest reading from Briar Cliff University senior Kevin Canady. Canady read “Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King.”
“They don’t have many college students coming in to read,” Canady said after he finished the book. “It was great. Even just answering the simplest questions they had on Martin Luther King.”
The students bounced back and forth between asking Canady questions about King and about Canady’s unrelated experience playing football at Briar Cliff. Questions related to King included how old was he when he died, and how old would he be if still alive today?
The students worked out the math on the classroom whiteboard to discover King was 39 when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. He would have been 84 if alive today.
Third-grader Shelby Edwardson said that although she learned a lot about King last year, she was excited for Monday’s guest readings. Another highlight of her day included cutting out and coloring a timeline of King’s life.
“I really like him. I like what he did where white people and black people could go to the same places together,” Shelby said, referring to the end of segregation laws.
Students also briefly touched on such other leaders as President Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery in America, Indian civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi, who peacefully protested British rule of India, and current U.S. President Barack Obama, who was sworn in for his second term Monday as the nation’s first black president.
Third-grader Caleb Johnson said King stood out as one of his favorites on the list.
“I like Martin Luther King because he wanted equal rights for all people in the United States,” Caleb said.
Darrell Lofton, director of multicultural and leadership programs at Briar Cliff University, said he helped organize the guest readings because it’s important to help children understand King’s legacy as a social leader.
Lofton said he met a couple of students Monday who did not know King was assassinated, emphasizing the importance of keeping the civil rights leader’s lessons alive in the classroom.
Lofton added that King’s lessons on pushing for peaceful changes in society still apply today.
“The civil rights movement wasn’t just a black movement, it was a social movement,” he said. “It’s a lesson that can be learned today. We do not have leaders like King today.”