Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
By Serge Bielanko
Monday, January 15 will mark a holiday for a lot of people. The kids are off school, maybe you don't have to head to work. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is coming. It's a midwinter tradition now, a federal holiday to honor an American visionary whose Civil Rights campaign for human justice and equality ultimately led to his own assassination. Yet so many of us take it all in stride. It's a day off. Maybe you can sleep in. Maybe you can get the oil changed on the car. Maybe you can binge watch something on Netflix.
But maybe we ought to take at least a little bit of time and remember exactly why we're off in the first place too, huh?
And to be fair, maybe you already do.
I know there are millions of Americans who wake up on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day intending to talk to their children about the man the day is named for. And many do. I started doing that the past few years as my older two kids, Violet, 8, and Henry, 6, finally seemed old enough to be included in the conversation. Now my littlest guy, Charlie, is pushing 4, and so I think we'll try and include him in our talk this year. It's a good feeling, going back and forth with my own flesh and blood about a man many, including me, consider to be one of the greatest Americans in a long line of them. Our talks move- sometimes effortlessly, sometimes less gracefully- from discussing race and skin color and what's right versus what's wrong, to the sad unanswerable question of why someone who really only wanted to do good in this world was killed for his efforts.
It's heavy stuff, but worthwhile too, right? I mean, it's a chance, this holiday is, not just to roll back over and sleep another couple hours, but rather to stand up in the face of all the howling winds of American life in 2018 in order to remind your kids (and yourself, too) that our country, as imperfect as it is, is also the birthplace of so many who fight for what matters most.
You know, if you think about it, Bellefonte is kind of the perfect setting to reflect upon Dr. King and his legacy. Although, in truth, the closest he ever came to here was January 21st, 1965, when he gave an impassioned speech at Penn State's Rec Hall, the spirit of Dr. King and what he stood for is still deeply entrenched in the heart and soul of these very streets, and in the fields and hills that surround them.
In the early 19th Century, Bellefonte rose up from nothing on the hardworking backs of the iron workers who sweated away in the forges that dotted the landscape. Many of those workers were African-American. And later, before the Civil War- when slavery was becoming a hotly contested issue- Bellefonte was a vital stop along the infamous Underground Railroad. The name Bellefonte was whispered in hushed tones among men, women, and children who were fleeing a life of servitude in search of true freedom.
Think about that for a moment.
Bellefonte once literally meant 'one step closer to freedom' to human beings in a way that none of us will ever truly understand or fathom. That's something for each and every one of us to be proud of in this town. I'm not blowing smoke. It's a heavy notion, but one which I suspect Dr. King would have tipped his own cap to if given half a chance.
Around the time Civil War broke out, Bellefonte's very own, Andrew Curtin, became Governor of Pennsylvania. This native son was a fierce champion for equality and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln's throughout the war. Governor Curtin was in staunch opposition to slavery and fought fiercely to wipe it off of the American map. He was an important man in United States history, and one that represented a side of Bellefonte that so many current residents still stand strong for.
I guess my point in running all of this by you is just to try and nudge you- much like I'll nudge myself and my kids this January 15th- to remember the man and his dreams. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day off for a lot of us, sure. However, its way more than that too. So, as Americans, we probably owe it to our own kids to gently glance back at the long road behind us in order to more fully understand the endless one stretching out ahead.
You know, we're luckier than many in a way.
We need look no further than just beyond our own front doors.
Because Bellefonte is far from perfect, of course. Yet she's your town...and she is indeed on the right side of history in many ways that Dr. King would have been proud of. Just remind yourself of that, okay? Remind yourself that Bellefonte's legacy is one worth knowing, a tale worth sharing with your own kids as they stumble down the stairs on a cold Monday morning, all sleepy-eyed and happy after a very long night of dreams.
This is the question that we all need to think about. For you, for your kids, and for your neighbors and their kids, too.
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