Having dreams - for peace

Museum: Port Discovery celebrates the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a mix of facts, fun and ideas for the future.

January 19, 2004|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The visitors who hung white paper doves on the Port Discovery children's museum "peace tree" over the weekend in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had a rash of ideas about how to bring peace to the world.

A girl named Jessica wrote that she would help the community, Katherine that she would throw away trash, Charley that he would be nice to people.

A dove written by Matt, however, suggested that worldwide harmony could best be achieved by something less traditional: "Removing the current administration from office."

Both young and old celebrated the slain civil rights leader's birthday as part of the downtown museum's "I Have A Dream Weekend." The idea was to mix facts with fun and come away with a better understanding of King's legacy.

"You can't teach everything about this era in five minutes," said Gary Thornhill, who works for the Baltimore nonprofit youth service corps, Civic Works, and was quizzing children on history at a table in the museum atrium yesterday. "What's good, though, is that they're interested."

A bright-eyed Thornhill encouraged Beaux Rathburn, 8, to take the "Test Your Civil Rights Era IQ" exam. The seven-question, multiple-choice test asked, among other things, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional (May 1954), and how long blacks maintained the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott (a year). With a little help, Beaux aced it.

His sister, Ashley, who just turned 6, picked out a picture of King from a sheet filled with the visages of more than a dozen other prominent African-Americans, including Malcolm X, Booker T. Washington and Thurgood Marshall - the late Supreme Court justice who was born in Baltimore in 1908.

"I was surprised at how much the kids knew," said Aberdeen resident Richard Rathburn, the father of Beaux and Ashley. "They're obviously teaching more now [about civil rights] than when I went to school."

Upstairs on the second floor, children colored "Peace Portraits" of King and other prominent African-Americans, which were then - with the help of a hot iron and two Popsicle sticks - turned into fabric ornaments. Dror Bezalel, 3, of New York colored a portrait of the first black woman in space, Mae Jamison, in a blur of blue, yellow, orange and purple.

At 19 months, Marisa Goffman was a little too young to understand the meaning of her art, but she drew intently with a yellow crayon on a cut-out of Rosa Parks - albeit on the back of the picture.

Marisa's parents, Robert and Rebecca Goffman, brought her and her 4 1/2 -year-old brother, Benjamin, to the museum during a trip from St. Paul, Minn., to Baltimore to visit family.

"They always learn something new when they come to children's museums," Rebecca Goffman said.

Jehan Assata, 11, and her sister, Shantel, 12, of Bowie learned some of the details of King's life, from his birth in Atlanta to the fact that he graduated from high school when he was only 15. Neither had known that 250,000 people participated in the 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Shantel summed up her vision of King this way: "He was a good person."

Thornhill said he thinks children understand that the reason most have the day off from school today has to do with the civil rights leader.

"I don't think they're sure about what should be done on this day, how to celebrate," he said. "In the service community, we say it's a day on, not off. We can't expect it to mean more to them than it means to us."

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