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Linda Ellerbee: On Civil Rights, Service and Apple Trees

Nick News Host Linda Ellerbee Talks about the "Beyond I Have a Dream" Special


Linda Ellerbee
Photo credit: Lucky Duck Productions

Ask kids who Martin Luther King Jr. is, and guaranteed you'll hear the words, "I have a dream." While it's great that our children are being educated on the history of civil rights in America, there is a lot more that Dr. King said on many subjects, and his heartfelt wisdom still applies today as much as it did during the heart of the civil rights movement.

As part of the annual celebration of Black History Month, Nick News with Linda Ellerbee delved deeper into the contribution Martin Luther King Jr. made to the civil rights movement, and to humanity in general, in the special episode, "Beyond I Have a Dream." In conjunction with airing of this insightful episode, I had a chance to chat with the award-winning journalist Linda Ellerbee about Dr. King, civil rights and more...

What inspired the topic "Beyond I Have a Dream"?

Every year we try and do something to celebrate Black History Month, because…we should! And this year Black History Month, which is February, fell so very close to the 25th anniversary of the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday. We thought, let’s combine the two. Now, we have done shows on Martin Luther King before a number of times, and we’ve done a lot of shows on racial injustice, but we were talking about how can we combine Dr. King’s birthday being a holiday and Black History Month, and I said, "you know, every time we do a show about Martin Luther King, kids tell us, ‘Oh he’s the I have dream guy, and he spoke out about racial injustice.’" But you know he was so much more. Yes, he fought for racial injustice, but he really fought for justice for everybody. He had so many more wonderful things to say beyond "I have a dream." Why don’t we examine those things?

What is the one most important thing you hope kids will get out of watching "Beyond I Have a Dream"?

That there was more to Dr. Martin Luther King than just the “I Have a Dream” speech...that he was a wonderful intelligent wise man who had a lot to say to this country and a lot to say to kids, and that his messages apply in 2011 as they did back then. We now have integrated schools, we have friendships between kids of different races. We are better than we were in 1963 and 1968, we are, but we ain’t there yet. We’re not all the way yet. There’s still much to be done and the things that he had to say should inspire all of us.

How can kids apply the featured MLK quote, “Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”?

Kids can go on the internet and find something in their area they can help with. [Try] your church, your school. You [the parent] can also be the one to start a direct service. There may be something in your school that you can help with that the school doesn’t have money for. There may be, for example, let’s take the refugee children of Sudan, there are schools all over this country that are collecting canned goods and sending them, and the same for Haiti. There’s always something that you can do, it’s just a matter of, pardon the expression, of getting off our butts and finding it!

On the MLK quote, "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree"...

I love that quote. I love that quote! Because, what he’s saying is things don’t have to be going right for you to believe in tomorrow. You can always have hope. You can always believe in tomorrow and act as though tomorrow is going to be better. Now, what better way to prove that than to go plant an apple tree at a time when Egypt is blowing up, and North Korea isn’t making us all that happy, and Afghanistan and Iraq are still going? And if you look around the world, you could be pretty depressed. I don’t think the world is going to blow up tomorrow, but even looking at the world the way it is, what a positive act to say I’m going to plant an apple tree. Because an apple tree doesn’t give it’s fruit the next week; it takes years. So what you’re saying is I believe in the long term future, and what better message to give kids that you believe in the future? And if nothing else, you can go plant an apple tree. The world can always use more apple trees!

What about the controversial civil rights subjects of our day -- like gay rights -- that are discussed in the episode, will some parents object to that?

The mission of our show is not to please everybody. The mission of our show is to try to explain the world to kids and explain the things that are in the news.

What I loved most about that the young boy who took the stand for gay rights, was that he put it in a context that was perfectly understandable. He said you don’t have to be gay to support gay rights, you don’t have to be black to support black rights, you don’t have to be a woman to support woman’s rights. This is about supporting the rights of others, and the quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and what affects one directly affects all of us indirectly.” So he was a very good example of a kid who was not personally affected by the gay rights issue at all. He has nothing at stake in it. He’s not gay. His parents aren’t gay. Now, has it cost him to come out and make this stand? Yes, it has. He has run into some trouble at his school, and I believe he is now being home schooled. Will that make some parents unhappy? Yes, it may, but you’d be amazed at some of the things that make some parents unhappy!

I will never forget having a father call and yell at me, because he walked into the living room at 9:30 at night, and his three-year-old was watching a show that had something to do with 9/11. He called, and he screamed at me for showing those images of the planes to a three-year-old and how inappropriate that was. My answer was, one: while we have done many shows that have something to do with 9/11, we have never once...never once, shown the images of those planes going into those buildings. Not one time, ever. He imagined he saw it. But the bigger question is, what is your three-year-old doing in control of the remote at 9 o’clock at night? These shows are not for two-year-olds. These shows are for kids 9-14.

READ MORE: Linda Ellerbee on co-viewing and her own role on Nick News on page 2
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