Students mark Black History Month

Second grade at Johnnycake Elementary stages living museum

February 25, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

The second-grade students at Johnnycake Elementary in Catonsville have discovered that without George Washington Carver, there might not be peanut butter, and if the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had not spoken out, schools might not be integrated. In their Black History Month research, they found ordinary men and women, who struggled and won Nobel prizes, Olympic medals and a firm place in the annals of American history.

The 7- and 8-year-olds turned their efforts into a museum for their schoolmates Thursday. Dressed as their favorite characters from history, sports, education, politics, art and entertainment, they shared their knowledge.

Ismael Diaz, in a lab coat, said his love for peanut butter drew him to Carver, whom he called "a great scientist." Taste buds led Janiah Leslie to the same character.

Their teacher, Jesse Lehrer, allowed duplicate representations of the more well-known characters, including Carver, King, Rosa Parks and Bill Cosby. She asked each presenter to describe how the characters made the world a different place.

"If not for me, blacks and whites might not be in the same school," said Naseem Walden, who wore pin-striped pants, a vest and "even a tie" for his portrayal of King. "I was a preacher, and I won the Nobel Peace Prize."

Ayaan Shah added a mustache to his King portrayal and said, "I liked what he did, but life was hard for him with all those speeches."

Naseem added, "Dr. King needed help. Just ask Rosa Parks."

Kelli Reaves, playing Parks, said, "I stopped unfair laws that separated people and I found ways to put people together."

Blanca Lee Jones' spacesuit was one of the more elaborate costumes. She played Guion Bluford, the first African-American in space.

"If not for me," she said in character, "we would not know as much as we do about space."

Aaliyah Peterson, whose grandmother, Louise Nichols, accompanied her to the exhibit, brought a baseball cap, bat and glove to complete her portrayal of Jackie Robinson.

Afterward, Nichols said, "This will help children learn from the past. If not for these people in history, we might not be as far as we are today."

A picture of Sojourner Truth encouraged Jayla Williams to study the 19th-century abolitionist.

"She spoke about women's rights and against slavery a long time ago," said Jayla, who covered her head in a scarf and wore a shawl across her shoulders.

Maimoonah El-Amin selected Booker T. Washington "because he was a great teacher, and I want to be a teacher. Maybe I can study at Tuskegee."

Others, like Amira Burman, who likes to sing and portrayed Marian Anderson, chose more current figures and spoke of how they broke through racial barriers.

"She was the first African-American to sing solo at the Metropolitan Opera in New York," Amira said. "Her story shows that if you work hard at your talent, you can achieve your dream."

Older students usually put together the school's presentation, but this year the school decided to give the younger children an opportunity to participate.

"There is a limit to how much they know, but they put forth a great effort," said resource teacher Alyson Tilles.

That might explain Cosby confusion on the part of Queen Ogunshakin, who dressed in a lab coat printed with "Dr. Huxtable," the character Cosby portrayed on his popular TV show.

"Without him, we wouldn't have funny shows on TV," she said. "He also delivers babies."

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