"This is one of my favorite days," he said. He's the principal of my sons' middle school, and he was hosting the Honor Roll Assembly. Each student would receive a public affirmation, a firm handshake, and a certificate. We parents are the lucky ones - the real winners. We get the coveted sticker for the car.
He said, "It's my favorite day, and not just because of the Honor Roll Assembly, though that's good, too. It's my favorite day because it's the birthday of Marin Luther King, Jr. We celebrate him on Monday, but today is his actual birthday, and I like to invest these few days in thinking on his thoughts and his contribution to the world."
He looked into the bleachers, into the rows of adolescents in hoodies and t-shirts.
"Middle schoolers, Dr. King taught us that there is a time to disobey.
"Now, listen, it's very rare, so don't go using this as a daily argument for your choices. But let me tell you, there will come a time in your life when what you know in the core of you, what you know that your spirit and your conscience are telling you to do, will go against what you have been taught. That is the time to break the rules.
"You see, Dr. King lived in a time when black students and white students couldn’t go to the same school, eat at the same restaurants, or drink from the same water fountains. And those were the rules.
"But he knew, deep within himself, that this rule was wrong. This rule needed to be broken. And he didn't use violence to break the rules. He used his words to get the world to think differently. He showed us that there comes a time when the best thing you can do for the laws is break them."
I mean, he didn't actually drop the mic, but he could have. This man is the best leader of middle schoolers - and their parents - that I have ever known. And really, is there anywhere a harder tribe to lead?
He said, "One word I absolutely hate: tolerance. We do not merely tolerate each other in this school. That is not enough to make a healthy community. We need to talk to one another, serve one another, be kind to one another. Not merely tolerate each other."
And then he said, "Middle schoolers, in our school, you are not required to be excellent. You don't have to be outstanding, or to be successful, or even to be brave. Many of you are all of those things, but we don't require that of you. We do require one thing: that you are Good.
"You must be good. You must do the right thing to the person beside you. Be a person of goodness. That is who Dr. King was, and that is who we must be."
~ ~ ~
Thank you, Dr. King.
Thank you for breaking the rules.
May we honor your goodness with a goodness of our own.