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Out of the Mouths and Into the Minds: What Children and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Teach Us About Life, Food, Humanity, and Entrepreneurship

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"Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine."
--Whoopie Goldberg

"The most interesting information comes from children."
--Mark Twain

A day has been set aside in the United States to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Some people use this day as a day off from work to catch up on errands and such. Some people use this to remember a great man whose inspirational speeches and words live on. Some people, especially in the education arena, use this day as a springboard to teach children thematic units on tolerance, social causes, and activism. July 2, 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which still matters. Martin Luther King Day still matters, as does the justice he fought for.

Just ask a child in America today who he was and what he did. The answers will surprise you. The answers will move you. They did me. As an experienced educator and Autism Specialist turned social entrepreneur, I have long believed that we can learn so much from a child, especially one with special needs. How that child sees the world. How he/she perceives his/her role in it. How we can tap into our own "inner child" and be more receptive to the lessons all around us, some of which I previously wrote about in my book and here. As an educator and speech therapist who has taught many thematic units on tolerance re: race, religion, special needs and more, I would like to share some lessons we can all learn from food and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What's the connection? Ask some of my students with special needs who love food and study its properties with the kind of keen eye usually reserved for those wearing white coats in a dark lab somewhere. Ask children who don't go to school on Martin Luther King Day and regale us with stories the next day of a leisurely lunch at home or in their local eatery. Ask children with Autism who stay home that day, knowing they are different and yearning to belong, to join in the family fun and neighborhood games, to have us tap into their unique potential and talents. We are all special. We all count. We all have a job and part to play on this stage of life. There are many lessons to hit this home, if we only open our eyes, minds, and hearts...

What Children Teach Us About Food and Martin Luther King Day: Four Lessons "From the Trenches"

(Quotes from actual children I work/worked with)

1. We are like eggs. We look different outside but the same inside. We all have fragile shells.

2. We are like apples. We come in different colors and sizes but we all do the same thing, serve the same purpose ... We all end up somewhere. Apple sauce, apple pie, and apple juice all make us feel better and help others feel better too.

3. We are like grapes. We all start out small but like to hang together to stay safe and warm. We're part of the bunch and like it that way. Together we can give more juice. Even when we get old we turn into something cool and sweet raisens!

4. We are like avocados. We come from different places around the world but we all take time to get ripe inside. We need to be watched and given time to grow. We're hard outside but soft inside, remember that!

What Dr. King's Words Teach Us About Our Humanity: Ten Lessons from a NICE Entrepreneur

(My interpretation of Dr. King's quotes)

1. "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" Our humanity thrives on instilling a sense of purpose into all that we do.

2. "The function of education is to teach one to think intensely and to think critically." Our humanity thrives on learning about ourselves & about others, for ourselves and for others.

3. "You don't have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step." Our humanity thrives on clear, concise, and deliberate calls to action.

4. "Our loyalties must transcend our race, our class...We must develop a world perspective." Our humanity thrives on collaboration and color-blind civic engagement with others.

5. "The ultimate measure of a man is where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Our humanity thrives on self actualization and embracing change, especially during difficult times.

6. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Our humanity thrives on continuously changing our mindsets and behavior.

7. "If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. Do whatever you have to to keep moving forward." Our humanity thrives on breaking down tasks to keep momentum going.

8. "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence." Our humanity thrives on doing the best we can, always.

9. "The time is always right to do what is right." Our humanity thrives on harnessing time and doing the right thing, for the greater good.

10. "The quality, not the longevity of one's life is what's important." Our humanity thrives on balancing Me/We and work/life for a better quality of life and a more meaningful legacy to leave behind.

My personal and professional lives have been profoundly influenced by what I have learned from both Dr. King and the children with Autism/special needs I have come across; past and present. I think the above lessons are timeless. They contain wisdom and truths I know Dr. King and these children would want shared and discussed. We all have challenges to overcome in life, individually and collectively. As super-dad and prolific blogger Rob Gorski writes in his famous post, "Ten Things My Autistic Kids Wish You Knew",

"If you love and support me I WILL do great things in my life in spite of my challenges."

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