Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on the 3rd Monday in January reminds us that society needs strong leaders: people who show us how to respect and honor diversity. King advocated for civil rights and drew on his religious beliefs to inform and sustain his work. He was assassinated in 1968 while in Memphis to protest alongside African American sanitation workers striking for equal pay and fair working conditions.
Since King’s death, many other marginalized people have challenged unfair treatment and called for social change. Some, like King, head major civil rights movements: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors (co-founders of Black Lives Matter); Tarana Burke (founder of the Me Too movement); and Nihad Awad (CEO of the Council on American-Islamic Relations). Others make a difference through small, everyday actions.
Fauja Singh Keeps Going (2020) is the story of one such person. As a small Punjabi boy, Fauja had weak legs that prevented him from walking until he was five years old. Even then, he could only take a few steps at a time. It took years before he could walk easily, and he was over 90 when he heard about discrimination against Sikhs in the United States and decided to run the New York City marathon in protest. The book (for ages 4-8) portrays his courageous struggle with discrimination because of physical limitations, race, and religion.
As you read about Fauja’s life with children, try one or more of these activities to deepen their engagement with the story:
Words to Remember. When Fauja was young, his mother would repeat these words to him every day: “You know yourself, and you know what you’re capable of. Today is a chance to do your best.” Invite children to think about what these words mean for themselves. Ask: What do you know about yourselves? What are you capable of? How might you do your best today? Post these words someplace they will see them and, like Fauja, remember their capabilities.
Determined Resistance. Whenever someone told Fauja that he couldn’t do something, the book says, “But Fauja did not listen and Fauja did not stop.” Encourage children to talk about the times that someone has told them that they are too young or too weak to do something. Ask: What did it take for you to show them they were wrong? Invite them to substitute their own name for Fauja’s and repeat his mantra (e.g. “But Jamika didn’t listen and Jamika didn’t stop).
Find Your Passion. Fauja was feeling lonely and miserable until he discovered running as a daily practice. He began to make new friends, learn more about his community, and experience the thrill of pushing his limits. Ask: What do you do to meet new people? How do you learn about your community? How do you challenge yourself? If children can’t think of answers to these questions, encourage them to identify some new activities they want to try.
Learn about Sikhism. Fauja practices Sikhism, which is a faith tradition that believes in equality, service, hard work, honesty, and integrity. Male adherents wear a turban and never cut their hair. Work with children to explore the Sikh tradition online, using some of the sites included in Related Resources (below).
- 'Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon' | Asia Society
- 19 of the Most Influential Civil Rights Leaders of the 21st Century
- Sikhism - Kids | Britannica Kids | Homework Help
- Who am I? What's on my Head? by LittleSikhs.com (Sikhism for Children, Kids, and Schools) Sikh Faith
- What is Sikhism? - BBC Bitesize
- 10 Fun Facts About Sikhism for Kids - Multicultural Kid Blogs