WATCH "OUR FRIEND, MARTIN"
Run Time: 60 minutes
Disclaimer: Please note that I did not upload this video to YouTube, so I can't be held responsible for the quality of this film. It's clearly a VHS recording of a 22-year-old tape. With that being said it's in pretty great shape, and worth watching. Additionally, I am not affiliated with the publisher or distributor of Our Friend, Martin. I’m simply a girl who likes to browse the internet for 1990’s era films and share my fantastic finds.
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JANUARY 18TH, 1999 | MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY
It was 8:00 AM on a foggy January morning, and I distinctly remember it was raining. I walked off the bus and into the school courtyard. I was a bit annoyed because the pants on my brown Limited Too velour bell-bottoms had gotten wet. The bell rang, I gathered my belongings and joined my 2nd-grade classmates as they entered the front doors of the school building.
My see-through Melissa sneakers were the last to touch the linoleum tiles of Classroom 19. I only had three minutes to get to my desk, so I instantly began my morning routine. I took off my brown Baby Phat puff coat, placed my Pocahontas backpack in my monogrammed cubby, said good morning to the class pet, Rock, who was literally a rock, and then headed to Ms. Wheat, our second-grade teacher, to say good morning.
To my surprise, Ms. Wheat wasn’t the person I found in the back corner of the room sitting in the dark yellow chair behind the bright blue desk. In her seat instead was an adult I had never seen before - not in the classroom, not on the playground, or even in the lunchroom.
On this morning, holding my Bratz binder, and wearing a head full of rainbow barrettes- I stood before a cheerful Black man who was wearing a raspberry pie colored sweater.
“Good morning. Who are you?” I said.
My mother taught me well. “If you meet an adult who is a stranger, first, ask them who they are. If you don’t like their answer, walk away. “ I use this logic now, and I’m twenty-seven.
“Good morning. I’m Mr. Crosby. I’ll be your substitute teacher today.”
“So, Ms. Wheat isn’t coming in today?”
“No, but she’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Does that mean we aren’t going to have our spelling test? Because I am ready.” Yes, I was the kid in class to remind the substitute that we had important educational tasks to achieve. I have no regrets!
“No test today. Today we are going to do something fun. Today we are going to celebrate.” Mr. Crosby said, speaking loud enough for the whole class to hear.
The students of Room 19 were intrigued, so we all began to quietly sit at our desks.
“Hello everyone, I’m Mr. Crosby. I’ll be your substitute teacher today. Ms. Wheat told me to tell you that she’ll be back tomorrow. For now, I’m happy to be here with you.” Mr. Crosby said, standing in between the Globe and projector.
“I’m also happy because today is a holiday. Can anyone tell me what the holiday is?”
“Today is Martin Luther King Day,” said Adrian, a student whose Mother brought in honey and apples to celebrate Rosh Hashanah last fall.
“Thank you. That’s right,”
“So, who is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ?” Mr. Crosby said this with an inflection in his voice as he said the word doctor. It was unintentional but I caught it. I immediately looked at Adrian and mouthed silently, “You forgot to say Dr. ”
“Dr. Martin Luther King was a nice man,” replied Jillian seated all the way in the back row.
“That’s right, again. Now for my final question. Who can tell me why we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?”
“We celebrate because he was a nice man,” it was Jillian speaking again and this time she forgot to raise her hand. I could tell she was confused about why she had to say it a second time. Didn't Mr. Crosby know? He was Black himself.
Grabbing the reigns of this sinking ship of a conversation Mr. Crosby answered his own question, “We celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King on Martin Luther King day because he fought for all people to be treated equally. Just as you were trying to say, he was a very nice man.”
“Today we’re going to learn about Dr. King, his life, and the things he did to make the world a better place for everyone.” Mr. Crosby continued.
Mr. Crosby walked to the side of the room where a large object was being covered up with a sheet. With the lift of his hand, the sheet was snatched away as he revealed our 2000’s era Panasonic TV with the built-in 2-head mono VCR.
“Today we’re going to watch a film about Dr. King. The film is called, Our Friend, Martin.”
The bright monitor gleamed from the reflection of the ceiling lights, illuminating all of our faces. Within moments the lights were lowered, kids positioned their jackets as make-shift pillows, the VHS player was loaded, and the movie day began.
If you were born in the 1990's you might agree with me that some of the best days in elementary school were the days when a teacher would roll in the portable TV and VHS player.
In the grand history of my life, looking back on this day is momentous for a couple of reasons. It would be the first time I experienced a Black teacher in my own classroom, it would be the first time I celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a Black teacher, and it would be the first time I would ever see the film Our Friend, Martin.
Synopsis: Our Friend, Martin
I don’t know about you, but watching Our Friend, Martin became customary at my elementary school. Year after year, grade after grade, each Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - we’d watch Our Friend, Martin to learn how Dr. King advocated for peace, respect, and equality for all people.
Released in 1999, Our Friend, Martin is an animated film about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the blessings he bestowed on humanity. The film observes the accomplishments of Dr. King through the perspective of Miles, a Black 6th grader who is more interested in baseball than biographies and history books. Or so Miles believes.
The film takes a magical turn of events when Miles, his White best friend Randy, his Latina classmate Maria, and the White school-bully Kyle are sent back in time to meet and see Dr. King in action. The gang makes multiple appearances in some of the notorious moments of Dr. King’s life, witnessing the bombing of Dr. King’s home, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and The March on Washington.
The film’s all-star cast includes Angela Bassett, Danny Glover, James Earl Jones, Jaleel White, Levar Burton, Oprah Winfrey, Samuel L. Jackson, and Whoopi Goldberg.
JANUARY 18TH, 2021 | MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY
It’s amazing to me that I was allowed to watch Our Friend, Martin as a second-grader. The sixty-minute film is jam-packed with police brutality, segregation, and what Dr. King called the “disease of racism”.
COVID-19 might be a killer disease but racism is THE OG virus.
Watching this film brought up a lot mentally. As an adult, I picked up on the character dynamics, language, and subtleties of the film. Aspects that I easily overlooked as a child. This G-rated film was a lot for me to take in, and I’m twenty-seven years old! I totally forgot about Kyle, the White school-bully, who seems to be a pain in the ass to everyone but mainly bullies the Black characters. I was beyond shocked when one of the White characters said to Randy, the eleven-year-old White skater boy in the film, “I suggest you leave those negroes alone or the only hanging you’ll be doing with them is from a tree.”
Again, who recommended this film for seven-year-olds?
I will say that reconnecting with this film brought up the same core emotion it did some twenty years ago. Self-empowerment. In watching Our Friend, Martin I was inspired by Dr. King’s powerful imagination. It takes a pretty devoted dreamer to imagine a future that doesn’t exist and fight for it to become a reality.
Simply put, using your imagination is a revolutionary act. Being a dreamer is a revolutionary act.
Borrowing a line from the film, "everyone has the power to make the world a better place. All you need is a dream and the courage to make it happen." I’ve decided my new ritual for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is to imagine a future worth fighting for. I want to use the holiday and the celebrations to come to envision a future that I feel responsible for creating. Additionally, I want to be apart of a future that not only serves my interest but more importantly serves the interest of humanity as a whole. As I grow older I realize my responsibility to the world only becomes greater and greater. As I think of having children and grandchildren afterward, I want to use the time I have now to plan for their futures and dream a little bigger on their behalf.
What kind of dreams do you have for the future? What kind of world do you want to live in? What kind of world do you think is worth fighting for?