The Day I Shook Hands with Mrs. King

  • Published
  • By MSgt Lakisha A. Croley
  • 325th Fighter Wing, Public Affairs



By Master Sgt. Lakisha A. Croley

325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


I had no idea when I woke up that morning in my 5th year of life that I would be shaking hands with a legend before the days end.

It’s the 1980’s, typical day in Teaneck, New Jersey, or so I thought. When I entered the halls of William Cullen Bryant Elementary School, the day started as normal.

We all gathered around our teacher, Mrs. Drier, and talked about what we were going to do that day. I believe the principal came over the announcement system at some point and said we were going to have a special assembly (This was over thirty years ago so you’ll forgive my less then tack sharp memory).  

As a side note, my parents were very knowledgeable about history and they taught their three daughters well. I understood the significance of Black History Month while recognizing I should find pride in who I was, where I came from and to celebrate it every day.

As we gathered into the hall, a feeling of anticipation grew. Little voices grew louder, focus was lost and fidgeting began in a way only little kids can do. Our principal turned the corner with a tall, distinguished woman by his side. She stopped to shake teacher’s hands and the hands of their students.

I knew her face. I’d seen her on TV and in photos in books at home.  I knew she was important, that hope and sorrow surrounded her and I wasn’t sure which one to hold onto.

I blinked and Mrs. Coretta Scott King was standing before me, shaking my small hand. I don’t remember much about that day but I remember her smile and her eyes were full of kindness.

I would later learn as adult that a beloved member of our community who had been a civil rights activist had made the visit happen. Mrs. Theodora Smiley Lacey was a science teacher for 37 years and pivotal to education rights throughout the Teaneck school district.

The impact of that moment would live with me through many moments of insecurities in wanting to be impactful in everything I did. I remembered that one person’s words, could bring about monumental change, if they didn’t give into fear.

Mrs. King once said “My story is a freedom song of struggle. It is about finding one's purpose, how to overcome fear and to stand up for causes bigger than one's self.”

I remain grateful for this experience as it a reminder of all we have accomplished and all that is left to be done, but it can’t be done alone.

As our fearless leader, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. says, “If you want to go fast, go alone…If you want to go forward, go together.”