Article and photos by Tracey Pratt
Tracey Pratt is a 6th grade Math Co-teacher at the Cambridge Street Upper School in Cambridge, MA and a proud member of the Massachusetts Teacher’s Association. She has been teaching in public schools in the District of Columbia and in Cambridge, MA for the past 14 years. Ms.Pratt is a proponent of using equity and social justice school reform to close the racial and economic achievement gap. She has worked tirelessly on many Education Votes campaigns to ensure equity for all public school students.
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On July 2nd I had the pleasure of traveling with our Massachusetts Delegation to visit the Jimmy Carter Center and the Martin Luther King Center here in Atlanta. What I expected to be just an afternoon of sightseeing quickly became quite an educational experience and took me on an unbelievable emotional roller coaster ride. Hop in your seat, fasten your seatbelt and join me as I take you on this ride.
My slow assent began as we entered the parking lot of the Carter Center. The beautiful grounds including the rose garden and reflecting pool were awesome to behold. When we entered the Carter Center building we saw a film about the life of Jimmy Carter. His story moved me in a way that I hadn’t expected. I thought I knew President Carter’s story but as it turned out, I didn’t know it at all. I was left with a new found respect for President Carter and a restored belief that anything is possible with perseverance and belief. I walked away from the Carter Center feeling appreciative and enthused about the ongoing work of Jimmy Carter.
The pinnacle of my roller coaster ride took place on Auburn Avenue at the Martin Luther King Center and Historic Sights. I visited both the old and New Ebenezer Baptist Church. When I walked into the old church, my stomach began to turn. I felt that I was walking on sacred ground. I entered the sanctuary and felt compelled to sit. As I sat, my emotions began to stir as I contemplated the fact that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached here. Both his father and grand father preached here. Four innocent girls were killed here simply because of hate and refusal to change. The civil rights movement was born here. After I left the sanctuary, I walked through the rest of the old church. With each step, I felt greater and greater anticipation that I was about to encounter something greater than myself.
I left the old church and walked across the street to the new church and the MLK Center. Again I watched a short film on the life of Dr. King. This time I knew the story; however as I watched the film, an extraordinary thought hit me. “What if?” What if Dr. King decided to be an ordinary preacher? What if he chose not to take up the civil rights and social issues in his community and in our country? What if he wasn’t a dreamer? After the film, I walked back across the street to the place where Dr. King and his wife are laid to rest. I began to feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. He was 39 years old when he died. In his short life, he accomplished so much. He did what he was called to do. He made a difference.
As my roller coaster ride came to an end, I was left feeling a sense of urgency about my own “what ifs” as a person, a teacher and a member of the NEA. What if I’m not working hard enough? What if I’m not making sure my voice is heard by the right people? What if I’m not speaking loud enough about equity and social justice? We are ALL dreamers and we have to do that extraordinary work to make our dreams a reality for ourselves, our communities and the students we serve.