It was a mere 16 days before my tenth birthday.
April 5, 1968 was like any other weekday, until I heard the news. I can’t recall if my mother was listening to the radio or watching the television, but when I came downstairs, I heard that someone had been shot the night before. He was someone famous and he was dead. I didn’t understand the significance. I could only feel that something wasn’t right. I heard words spoken over the airways—something about a future war between whites and blacks.
These words added to my confusion. I had white and black classmates. We were in fourth grade together. We learned. We ate lunch. We played kickball. Why would I fight with my friends?
When I arrived at school, our teacher and another adult stood at the front of the classroom. My friends and I were in our seats waiting. My heart raced and I could no longer wait to tell my teacher what I’d heard that man say. So, in front of the whole class I raised my hand, and when called upon, told her what I’d heard.
The room got quiet until the teacher responded. I don’t recall her words to me, but I remember clearly what I felt. Shame. I didn’t understand why. I just knew I had said something wrong—something bad. I wish I could have taken it back. I wish I understood what was happening around me. I didn’t. And, my teacher never told me.
Years later, I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. Now I understand the pain of that day. What I don’t understand is the hesitancy to discuss what happened and try and make sense of it. And, I wonder even today, when that discussion will take place in a meaningful, loving way.