OTTUMWA — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us more than just how to get along. He taught us to take action.
Principal Jeff Hendred at Horace Mann Elementary School gave students a task that, at first glance, may not have seemed to fit with King's main historic message: That one day, people of all races will live in harmony. Instead, Hendred tasked his students with describing their dreams. And that it's OK to dream big.
During a school event in the gym Monday, parents and classmates listened to dreams of young people who dreamed of becoming a football player, a stand-up comedian and a doctor. Though those dreams weren't about racial harmony, Hendred acknowledged after the assembly, that's just fine.
"That was Rev. King's dream. This is about their dreams."
Another example that doesn't necessarily jump out as being an obvious connection to Martin Luther King: Fifth-grader Beau Larue has learned to make stuff out of duct tape.
This, said Hendred, is a perfect example of what he was trying to teach his kids.
"The first I knew of it, he'd made a purse out of duct tape for his teacher," Hendred said Monday. "He's made a billfold, bookmarks ... and a backpack. I see him using his duct tape backpack!"
But how is that a dream like the one celebrated during MLK Day?
"Because he can see something that doesn't exist," Hendred said, "and work to bring that vision into reality."
Beau learned from his older brother, then began getting more knowledge via YouTube tutorials. He built up his skills to an impressive level.
"I love when I can make something no one else has made before," Beau told the audience. "I like when I can accomplish my goal."
Madison Bishop is a sophomore at Ottumwa High School, one of several former Horace Mann students invited back to the school to talk about what their dreams were in elementary school, what they've accomplished and whether their dreams have changed in the years they've been gone.
Madison was at Horace Mann in fourth grade when students were asked what musical instrument they'd be interested in. She knew right away.
"I wanted to play drums," she told the audience Monday. "My dreams started when we got to choose what we wanted to do."
The first step, if she really wanted to drum, was to take a year of piano lessons, which she did. There was also a suggestion she study vocal music, which she also did. And, of course, she needed to practice drumming; she did. If you look for her among the percussion section of the the band, she is the one playing the "quad" drums.
"The cool ones," she told the children.
Now she has a drum set at home and is a student of the drummer from the popular Don Blew jazz band.
The trick, she and her classmates told students, was to have a goal, to believe in yourself and to really work toward that goal. And that, Hendred agreed, is exactly what Martin Luther King did. He had his dream. For years, he practiced public speaking and studied the subjects that were important to him. To get his message across, he maintained a grueling schedule of lectures, sermons and marches.
The high school students told the younger students: Believe in yourself, that you have something valuable to offer and that success is possible.
Hendred later condensed his message when he paraphrased national speaker Joel Barker, saying that dreams without action go nowhere, and even action doesn't go anywhere when there's no destination. The secret, Hendred said, is to combine a dream with action. As Beau said, to have a dream and "go for it."
That lesson can be applied to groups of people, too, the principal said after the kids went back to class. They had ended by singing about the dream of "peace and plenty and harmony." For society to reach those difficult goals, Hendred repeated, we need to believe in ourselves, have a vision of what we want and work hard to bring that dream to reality.
— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark