They're living out a dream

Youngsters bring to life famous and lesser-known African-Americans

January 14, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

Dressed in a brown vest, tweed blazer and a thick wig, Zaneil Moore stood statue-still, his painted mustache slowly beginning to sweat off his 10-year-old face.

But with a gentle poke from a visitor yesterday, he sprang to life.

"I am Frederick Douglass. In 1818, I was born a slave," the boy proclaimed, spouting a carefully memorized set of facts and anecdotes about the influential abolitionist, editor, orator and author.

A fifth-grader at Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore, Zaneil was participating in the Living Museum exhibit at Port Discovery as part of the children's museum's celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The seventh annual "I Have a Dream" weekend also featured a drum circle, educational films about King and a crafts room, where children created collages in the style of Romare Bearden, a celebrated African-American artist of the Harlem Renaissance era.

The museum's activities are to continue today and tomorrow. Renowned soprano Janice Chandler is scheduled to honor the civil rights leader's memory at 1 p.m. tomorrow with a musical performance and a discussion of music that King enjoyed.

"Even though the focus this weekend is on African-American history, this kind of thing happens all year long," said Nora Moynihan, director of education and community enrichment for the museum. "It doesn't just happen one day because we don't want kids to become cultural tourists."

In the Living Museum exhibit, more than two dozen costumed children were scattered throughout a room in various poses. Dressed as famous and lesser-known African-Americans, they stood quietly until passers-by tapped them, inviting the children to spring into character and describe their accomplishments.

The exhibit was the work of Andrea Jackson, a fifth-grade teacher at Northwood Elementary School who was honored in May as the city's Teacher of the Year.

"If you ask children to name a famous African-American, with a lot of them, the only person they can tell you anything about is Martin Luther King," Jackson said. "So I started having them select a person to research and then become that person. If you talk to them, you'll see that they're people who aren't normally talked about."

This year's class included Mae Jemison, an astronaut and the first black woman to travel into space; Madam C.J. Walker, a self-made millionaire and philanthropist; and Dr. Charles Drew, creator of the first blood bank.

Isis Peace dressed in chocolate-brown pants, high heels and a beribboned blouse with pearls at her throat and wrists, portraying a sassy and unusually smiley Condoleezza Rice.

"I chose Condoleezza because my teacher said I looked like her and because she is the secretary of state and because she knows the president," Isis said.

Her sister, Ikira Peace, donned a magenta headscarf and wrap, dark sunglasses and dangly earrings with her long hair braided down her back.

"Oh, my goodness, look at Maya Angelou. I should have brought my camera," Cassandra Lewis said, scurrying over to tap Ikira into character as the poet and author.

Lewis' daughter, Evetra, ran around the room, tapping as many characters as she could before leaving. "It was very educational," the 8-year-old from Alexandria, Va., said. "It was really nice how they dressed up -- like they were really that person."

Downstairs, children who had been playing on Port Discovery's 3 1/2 -story climbing apparatus were lured into a first-floor studio by the sound of raucous music.

There, musician Jonathan Murray led a group of parents and children in a drum circle.

Gesturing for the drummers, cymbalists and bell-ringers to become quieter, he told them, "Keep it low. Do you guys hear that? Do you hear Dr. King's dream in the beautiful music you're making? It's more beautiful altogether than any of you could make individually. Let's celebrate."

And with that, the music-makers again increased their volume and spent a good half-hour making as much noise as they could.

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

"I Have a Dream Weekend" is scheduled to continue at Port Discovery, 35 Market Place, from noon to 5 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow.

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