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Racism through my children's eyes - Gerry Yandel

My daughters sat enraptured in front of the TV -- no rare occurrence, actually -- watching a battle during "The Two Towers," the middle movie of the Tolkien trilogy.

As they watched the dwarf, the elf and the man battle the ugly cross-bred evil called orcs, I watched them.

But, my mind was a million miles away from Middle Earth.

Instead, during this weekend of tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King, I was reflecting on racism through my children's eyes.

When Dr. King was gunned down on the motel balcony in Memphis in 1968, I was 8... the same age as my youngest daughter, Jane, who hides her eyes from the creepy-looking goblins in the movie she's watching.

I didn't become aware and begin to understand Dr. King, his teachings or his legacy until much later in my life.

But already, my daughters have grown up with the idea of Dr. King as a mythic and heroic figure.

I can recall a night not too long ago, the three of us were in the car trying to cut across town via surface roads during rush hour.

We ended up going down Boulevard toward I-20, and I pointed to Dr. King's childhood home as we drove by past Auburn Avenue.

Well, the reverence and awe that greeted this revelation was no less than if I had revealed the location of the secret entrance to the Bat Cave.

There was a few minutes of hushed quiet as the girls strained behind their seat belts to get a quick look down the street. They didn't really get a chance to see the actual boyhood home of Dr. King.

My oldest daughter, Emily, seemed most impressed that such a great man came from such a humble and real place. Both girls began to pepper me with questions about this historic person they have learned so much about.

In my daughters' minds, Dr. King and his messages of peace, love and tolerance are firmly implanted in their minds, with the kind of understanding that becomes part of the bedrock of whom we, as people, become.

My children, like so many of their peers today, know no color barriers. They are still sheltered enough to view racism as some unfathomable and extinct philosophy that used to exist back in the scary old days.

My kids did not have to work for that simple tolerance, as my generation did... and does.

It comes naturally to them.

And, as they sit there watching men and women of different races -- elves, dwarves, humans -- fighting together for the common good, they are absorbing the timeless message preached by King and many great men and women throughout history.

And, I am reminded of my responsibility to make sure they know that it isn't just a fantasy movie.

Gerry Yandel is the city editor for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or gyandel@henryherald.com .