Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

Everyone Has a Story… and We Need Them All

MLK Day panel at WSHM

Last Monday, I was honored to participate in a panel on diversity and changemaking in children’s literature as part of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at the Washington State History Museum (you can read an excellent summary of the full panel here). In preparing for my part of the panel, I couldn’t help thinking back to my Emu’s Debuts from exactly two years ago (have a really been here that long? Meep!). That seemed like a good place for me to start.

In that old blog post, I referenced an MLK quote that resonated with me…

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

…and I talked about how our job as authors is to facilitate that kind of communication through story, whether true or fictional, and how stories can speak to universal human truths, even when the specific life experiences and situations are very different, such as mine and Emmanuel’s, as shown in Emmanuel’s Dream.

While drafting my recent speech, I also went through my transcripts from my interview with Emmanuel in 2010 and stumbled across this gem I hadn’t noticed before for some reason. He told me,

“When you hear about so many people—their story and their lives—you can say whoa, that guy’s story sounds like my story. It’s familiar. Because you know, the rich person has a story to tell, and the poor person has a story to tell, and the person who won the race has a story to tell, and the person who is in last place has a story to tell. So people have to come together to educate ourselves with stories, so that we can be able to move forward.”

As I concluded in my speech on Monday, I believe Emmanuel is right: stories will help us move forward. I have almost nothing in common with Emmanuel, yet his story touched me, and I hope it touches young readers, too. I hope it will help them understand and value other people despite their obvious differences. I also hope it will show them that each and every one of us—including themselves—has value and can make a positive difference in the world, just like Emmanuel did, and just like Dr. King did.

Their stories matter, and so do everyone else’s. That’s why so many of us in the children’s literature community are supporting the We Need Diverse Books campaign. The more diversity we have in our stories, and in our storytellers, the more we can all communicate with one another, the less we will all fear each other, and the better we can all get along. Diversity in literature builds understanding, and understanding builds empathy. With enough mirrors and windows, maybe we can finally stop the hate.

So, please, keep sharing stories–stories like Emmanuel’s, Dr. King’s, and, most importantly, your own. The world needs them all, now more than ever.

Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. Her debut nonfiction picture book, EMMANUEL’S DREAM, was published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January 2015. MY DOG IS THE BEST, her debut fiction picture book, will be available June 2015 from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan (May 2015). Maybe then they’ll finally force her to retire from Emu’s Debuts, unless…
Please visit Laurie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.


Filed under Diversity

MLK, Obama, and the power of story

Photo by Brett Farmiloe

Photo by Brett Farmiloe

Today happens to be both Martin Luther King Day and Obama’s second inauguration address. It has also been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and almost 50 years since King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. A poignant coincidence of timing, to be sure.

While perusing Facebook yesterday, I came across this insightful Martin Luther King, Jr. quote:

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

It was posted by LitWorld.org, along with the following status: “Stories matter so much. They connect us, and bind us together, and give us strength. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. let’s fight – today, tomorrow, and every day – for the power of story, and every child’s right to read, write, and share their story.”

That really resonated with me. One of our jobs as writers is to facilitate that kind of communication, whether we write fiction that pulls the reader into someone else’s shoes and lets them experience another life or nonfiction that teaches the reader about some aspect of the world we all share. Sharing our stories, as well as the inevitable pieces of ourselves that spill out onto those pages, helps our readers know and understand another person’s point of view.

Emmanuel and I in 2010

Emmanuel and I in 2010

At one point while I was writing my upcoming picture book biography about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a young man from Ghana who changed the way his country viewed disabled people, my husband asked me something to the effect of, “What can an able-bodied white American girl possibly have to say about this? Why would YOU write THIS story, one that has nothing at all to do with your personal experience?” It left me speechless. Why wouldn’t I write this story? To me, it’s not about being disabled, or African, or male. It’s a story about feeling ignored when you think you have something to offer; about pursuing and achieving a dream; about the personal rewards of working for the good of others. It’s about how every one of us has value and can make a difference in the world. It’s a story about being human. Those are all things I have personally experienced.

Emmanuel’s story touched me, and I want it to touch young readers, too. I hope it will make them value other people despite their obvious differences. And I hope it will empower readers as individuals ready to make their own marks on the world.

Photo by Tom LeGro/PBS NewsHour

Photo by Tom LeGro/PBS NewsHour

At the official dedication of King memorial on the National Mall in 2011, Obama said, “It is precisely because Dr. King was a man of flesh and blood and not a figure of stone that he inspires us so. His life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don’t give up.”

So, whatever you’re working on… don’t give up. It might be just the thing the world needs.

Incidentally, powerful words are all around us. That King quote above? Being a nonfiction author, I didn’t want to quote it without knowing its original source. It turns out it’s from an advice column MLK did for Ebony in 1953, in which he advises a woman not to divorce her second husband just because he and her daughter do not get along. It wasn’t the lofty origin I was expecting, but I guess it just goes to show that greatness can be found in the unlikeliest places!


Filed under Writing and Life