Five Lessons from the Mountaintop

Written by Alice Faye Duncan

Librarians and teachers make the best writers for young readers.  Why? We know the minds and emotions of students. We also know the gaps in the literature. If we dare to try our gifts, we can create mentor texts to fill these gaps.  Identifying gaps in the literature is how I came to write Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop. I wanted to teach children about the Memphis labor struggle and Dr. King’s assassination.  It was the 1968 strike that led to Dr. King’s death.  You cannot speak about one event without explaining the other.  When I could find NO picture books on the subject, I decided to write one. Big dreams require a long birthing season.  It took ten years to get the story just right.  I wrote the first draft in 2005 and sold the final draft in 2015.  Across this decade I gained wisdom that impacted my practice as a librarian and writer.  I call this education—5 Lessons from the Mountaintop. I encourage you to use these lessons for your own arsenal of “Best Practices” in life and on the job.


Lesson #1

Take Your Orders from a Higher Power

Dr. King graduated Boston University with opportunities to preach on the East Coast in 1955.  Friends wanted him to stay in Boston or move to New York. He followed that “still small voice” connected to the soul. It charged him to return to his native land—the American South to dismantle racial inequality.  This was not a safe or convenient choice. And yet, he surrendered to the task. I gather from Dr. King that a path without resistance is NOT the road to a consequential destiny.  High callings require courage, concern for others, and creativity.  I approach library programming in this way.  Specifically, for my student lecture series, I have choices. I can invite a mayor to speak with conciliatory tones.  OR—I can invite a social activist of goodwill, who is helping dismantle illiteracy and crime with rap lyrics. I pick the social activist.

Lesson #2

Make Plans With the End in View

When Dr. King met Coretta Scott in Boston, he shared his grandiose dreams on the very first date.  After graduation he would go south to help black Americans abolish the restrictions of Jim Crow laws.  This dream resonated with Coretta, a girl from Alabama, who had waged her own protest in Ohio, when the Antioch school district would not allow her to teach white students.  Martin married Coretta and together the couple made plans with the end in view.  Together they would tackle racial injustice and that is what they did. In Montgomery they helped to abolish segregation on public transportation.  In Washington D.C. they helped to inspire the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  In Selma, they marched against voter suppression in 1965.  I approach my library program with the end in view.  I draft my plan for programming and instruction during the summer.  I execute my plan in the fall.  I evaluate my execution in May. And while there are a myriad of modifications and challenges throughout the school year, tenacity and faith lead me to a successful end.

Lesson #3

Leave Yourself Open to Miracles and Chance Encounters

When Dr. King left his home in Atlanta for graduate school, he forged ahead with no assured plan for success.  Miracles and chance encounters shaped the legacy that became his life. For instance, Martin found Coretta by some cosmic crossing.  Here were two black scholars from Georgia and Alabama, who meet in Boston through a friend. Without the steel-still calm of Coretta, who buoyed Martin through bouts of doubt, America would have no King.  Without King’s chance meeting with Ella Baker, there may have been no Civil Rights Movement.  It was Ella Baker, a leader in the NAACP, who spoke to the GIANT in him and encouraged King to use the momentum of the Montgomery boycott to dismantle segregation not in the South alone, but the nation. I leave myself open to miracles and chance encounters throughout the school year.  In the middle of a stressful day, I STOP.  I sit in silence and wait for Providence to send me help, wisdom or the right answer. Most times a student materializes from thin air and chimes to my delight, “Can I shelve some books?”     

Lesson #4

Recruit a Team With Many Gifts

Dr. King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to achieve racial equality in America under the banner of non-violent action. While King was an intellectual and orator, he needed the gifts of others to make his organization effective. Therefore, he recruited a disparate collection of personalities like Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson. Reverend Abernathy was an earthy preacher, whose manner appealed to the rural masses needed to make the Civil Rights Movement a success.  Reverend Jesse Jackson was a youth minister, handsome and charismatic. His personality inspired college students to join the social protests.  In all of their differences, the three activists made the SCLC a powerhouse for social change and in America, great walls of injustice tumbled. When organizing library programs, I appoint student-leaders with various talents.  The loquacious scholars serve as narrators and program hosts.  Young tech-meisters are recruited to run the video camera, media board and lights.  As for my student poets, singers and musicians—they provide the talent.  This enthusiastic participation of students with various gifts creates a series of annual library programs that support the curriculum and impact learning.
Illustration by R. Gregory Christie

Lesson #5

Use Your Power, Privilege and Prosperity to Help Others

Dr. King was born on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia.  The year was 1929. At one time, his neighborhood was considered the richest black community in the world.  His father was a pastor and graduate of Morehouse College. His mother was a teacher and graduate of Spelman and Hampton University. They gave Martin the best in all things concerning education, social graces and material accouterments. In his parent’s home, Dr. King never experienced a dearth of finances or learning.  However, his luxury of life did not make him impervious to the vile reality of segregation. He was Black. It is for this reason that Dr. King does not stay in Boston or pursue opportunities in New York. Dr. King was intentional to use his privilege and power of mind to serve a nation of people, relegated to second-class citizenship. I approach the needs of my students in this way. I own a wealth of knowledge and wisdom they have not acquired.  During library instruction and programs, I offer them what I have. As with Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, I also put this knowledge in books. How can you use lessons from Dr. King’s life to make positive changes in your library practice?  And in this New Year (2019,) how can you apply your talents that have gone untried? Now is the time for awakened dreams.  RISE UP!
Alice World-View
Alice Faye Duncan serves the city of Memphis as a high school librarian. She received her National Board Certification in 2007.  Alice also writes books for young readers.  Her most recent titles include MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP, 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE and A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS.  You can visit her website for FREE lesson plans and resources related to her books @

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