It's a rainy Monday morning, and youth from Watts and Beverly Hills are sitting together in the auditorium of David Starr Jordan High School in South Central L.A. Rabbi Marc Schneier and Martin Luther King III share a stage, and even the ninth-graders are paying attention. This just may be what Martin Luther King Jr. Day is all about.
There has long been talk of problems between the Jewish and African American communities, but King and Schneier want to talk about shared dreams. Schneier has developed a one-day school curriculum, based on his book "Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King & the Jewish Community," to which King wrote the forward. The book and the curriculum, distributed to 350 schools in New York and Los Angeles, use the words and inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to foster better relations between African Americans and Jews. Used in addition to the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) "A World of Difference" program, the curriculum focuses on how Jews and African Americans struggled together for civil rights.
Schneier demonstrates Dr. King's inspiration from the Old Testament, his personal friendships with prominent Jews like Abraham Joshua Heschel, and his strong public support for Jewish struggles in Israel and the Soviet Union. With Dr. King as a model, students learn that civil rights has been a struggle fought by both peoples, together.
Monday's joint school assembly with brought a personal touch to the readings and class discussion. The choir from Milken sang "Hatikvah" and Jordan's choir sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with the two ensembles coming together for "The Star Spangled Banner."
"I've seen and met new people," said Milken junior Teddy Seidman, 16. "I think I need that."
Seidman's classmate Justin Friedman, also 16, admitted that he is "used to the same people every day," adding that his discussion of this topic in a Jewish law class showed him it is "important to be a community, to keep an open mind and not separate ourselves."
In Schneier's address to the combined student bodies, he quoted Dr. King: "My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility."
When King got to the podium, he easily roused the crowd. He had found two more things shared and cherished by these teenagers, Jewish, African American, and Latino alike. They share a strong faith in God -- and an encyclopedic knowledge of television commercials. King exhorted the students to keep their faith, to use it to make the world better, because "God is like Coca-Cola. He's the real thing. God is like Pepsi. He's the choice of a new generation." By the time King got to God as a Visa card, Milken students and Jordan students were loudly cheering together for God.
The students of Jordan and Milken high schools have been getting to know each other and the problems they share on an ongoing basis through the ADL's program. On this day, with Schneier and King, they got an enthusiastic history lesson on shared dreams.