Written by Colleen Mitchell, Author, Speaker, Missionary
As a sixth grade language arts teacher, my goal is always to engage my students in the power of story and information to educate, inspire, and empower us.
When I realized that the unit focused on the Civil Rights movement in their texts overlapped with Black History Month, I wanted to broaden their perspectives on the world and for them to see how our history is not a single moment presented on a page, but a part of who we are as a society and a culture and thus a part of who they are.
I taught a class of predominately Hispanic students. They were surprised at the level of violence and personal sacrifice people had to make to advance the movement.
So I began to consider opportunities for them to experience something more than what they could derive from their textbooks and classroom discussions, something that would cement the Civil Rights timeline we created and the math we did to understand how long slavery existed in our country, how long Jim Crow laws were in place, and how long the Civil Rights Act has been a law in our country.
I wanted them to see beyond the page into the faces of people who had the courage to stand up for justice and paid the price.
I found the perfect place to do so when I planned a class field trip to the African/African American Historical Society and Museum of Allen County. We spent the afternoon moving from room to room as the kids peered at images of events they recognized from our study and learned new facts.
I will never forget the hush that fell over the boys when they heard the story of Johnny Bright, the football player who threw a touchdown with a broken jaw, or the satisfaction on their faces when they could recognize Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the students at the Woolworth’s counter.
They all were stopped in their tracks by the photographs of protesters being hosed down by fire hoses and the life-size depiction of a police dog attacking a protestor. An image that will forever stay in my memory is one of my students, a girl, standing in front of the display of local African-American women who had an important impact on their community, soaking up the power of a story to inspire and empower her.
After our trip, I assigned my students an essay in which they were to define courage only using images they had seen on their trip to the museum. The poignant responses proved that my hunch had been correct. Bringing the stories of our history to life can change the way we see the world.
What is courage? A little brown girl in a white dress walking into school surrounded by hate, one student wrote. Being attacked by police dogs just for standing up for your rights, many included. Rosa Parks being thumb-printed in a Montgomery jail, almost all of them included.
I am so happy to know there is a place like the African American museum in Fort Wayne where our community, especially our students, can see the face of courage and be empowered and inspired to stand up for what is right.
Colleen Mitchell is currently on personal leave from teaching. She is a published author (“Who Does He Say You Are?” and “When We Were Eve”).
Published in the Vol. 1 | No. 2 issue of the FWIS. Opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Fort Wayne Ink Spot and its publisher.