New King Memorial Makes An Impression On Teens

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The new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., opens to the public on Monday. A group of teens who will attend talk to NPR's Alex Kellogg about what the monument means to them.

JOHN YDSTIE, host: Tens of thousands of Americans will travel to Washington, D.C. this week for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall. For many African-Americans and their children, the event, celebrating Dr. King's civil rights achievements, will have a special significance. But as NPR's Alex Kellogg reports, those very achievements can leave young blacks feeling far removed from the time when Dr. King lived and fought for equality.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. I call this meeting to order.

ALEX KELLOGG: On Friday night, a group of talented black teenagers gathered in a parent's home in Bowie, Maryland. Bowie is just outside Washington, D.C. and happens to be one of the richest black suburbs in the U.S. These teenagers gathered in part to discuss their plans to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in the coming weeks. But it's clear from their conversations they're still gaining a greater understanding of his life and what he fought for.

AMARAH BLYTHE: My Mom was quizzing me today actually in the car.

KELLOGG: That's Amarah Blythe. She's 16 and heading into her junior year of high school. She's the vice president of this teen chapter of Jack and Jill, an organization that's decades old and is meant to connect black families.

BLYTHE: I don't think I can honestly say that I have faced like discrimination or racism, like, in my lifetime. I know it's out there but I haven't faced any.

KELLOGG: Her mom, Aimee Blythe, says that while racism doesn't resonate much with her daughter, Dr. King's legacy of fighting for the poor and the underprivileged of all colors does. She says she's excited to be taking her daughter to the memorial's dedication next Sunday.

AIMEE BLYTHE: I think that the monument is like a reminder to our family that even though a lot has been accomplished already, there still is a lot that needs to be done.

KELLOGG: The memorial is the first monument on the National Mall dedicated to an African-American. It was carved in granite and will feature a standing Dr. King emerging from a massive rock. It took decades to bring into being, but it will open to the public Monday.

AUSTIN HOLMES: Who else is going to the Martin Luther King Memorial?


KELLOGG: Austin Holmes is 16 and heading into his senior year of high school. He's also the president of this teen chapter of Jack and Jill. He plans to take his grandmother to see the memorial. Although he says he hasn't experienced much racism, his grandmother has vivid memories of being forced to sit in the balcony at the movies because she was black.

HOLMES: It can't be that old because, you know, my grandma's still in her 60s. So, it's like if she was there, you know, she's there and she can remember everything that happened, it's not that long ago.

KELLOGG: And indeed, it's not. But the progress that's been made can mean a greater distance between present and the past. It's a distance that the parents hope the monument will help close. Alex Kellogg, NPR News, Washington.

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