These students deserve notice

May 14, 2008|By GREGORY KANE

Those students at Doris M. Johnson High School are at it again, and this time they've ventured where few in their generation have ever ventured before.

You might have read about DMJ students before, in this column, about this time last year, to be precise. Students then gave presentations on the civil rights movement in Maryland. The site was the Maryland Historical Society. Some of the same students were back again this year, along with a few new ones, giving a presentation they called Collision: People and Events that Shaped the Vietnam Era in Maryland.

Thirteen students worked on the project, covering 11 topics. You're going to read all of their names in the next few paragraphs, because all deserve recognition. In fact, if I wrote as much about each one as he or she deserves, this column would have to run daily for the next three weeks.

But we in the news media have inundated you lately with stories about students who have assaulted teachers, assistant principals and other staff members in city schools. This ain't that kind of party. This is a column about those students who are in Baltimore schools achieving, those who want to learn, and those who know the value of an education.

And there are more of them than we think.

Raven Coleman covered the history of the Medal of Honor and the Baltimore Four, a group of anti-Vietnam War activists who destroyed draft records. Cierra Johnson wrote an essay about Norman Morrison, a Quaker and pacifist who burned himself to death to protest the Vietnam War.

Epiphany Butler, Taivon Murphey and Warren Sweeley tackled the topic of perhaps the Baltimore area's most famous anti-Vietnam War activists: the Catonsville Nine. Kendra Hendricks and Kiana James elaborated on the lives of two of those nine: Kendra wrote about Daniel Berrigan, while Kiana wrote about his brother, Philip.

Anshrea Covington and Lacresha White did some research on the journalism of the era. Anshrea wrote an essay about what writers to The Sun's letters-to-the-editor page had to say about the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and about the Catonsville Nine; Lacresha did the same with the letters-to-the-editor section of The Baltimore Afro-American, but added what readers had to say about the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

There were student anti-war protests at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1970 and 1971. Antwan Branch and Anjalissa Johnson wrote about those. Jackie Clinton-Harris wrote about Viva House in West Baltimore, which was started to provide housing and counseling for conscientious objectors and draft resisters.

"These topics were selected because of the current war in Iraq and because this is the 40th anniversary of the year 1968," Mandela Brown, 17, a DMJ senior, told those gathered to hear presentations in an auditorium at the historical society. Mandela wrote about Gov. Spiro Agnew. Perhaps it was appropriate that Mandela brought up the subject of 1968, because that was the year that made Agnew.

Mike Douglas, a history teacher in his eighth year at at school, - and yes, he has heard the jokes about the famous talk show host with the same name since he was a boy - said that the students were energized by watching Tom Brokaw's documentary about the year 1968.

"The kids get excited about [1968] because it's so dramatic," said Douglas, who teaches all the students in an elective class that focuses on historical research. "They got fascinated by things like the Black Panthers and the protest [by black sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos] at the Olympics."

Fascination is one thing, but what did the students learn?

Antwan and Mandela, both 17-year-old seniors, said they learned different things. Antwan was surprised to find out that many of the National Guard troops who clashed with protesters at College Park were students at the school. Brown said he learned that while Agnew had a moderate-to-progressive record on civil rights, the late vice president "was a hawk for the war." Mandela added that he also "found out a lot about the Vietnam War."

"I didn't know anything about the Vietnam War or Viva House," Jackie, an 18-year-old senior, said after the presentations were over. "I didn't know they existed. I hadn't really studied the Vietnam War."

Judging from how that thing in Iraq is going, neither have President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Is there any lesson, I asked Jackie, that these two can take from the Vietnam War and apply to Iraq?

She paused a few seconds, and then gave her answer.

"The war is really not our war," she said. "We really shouldn't be over there."

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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