Talk about genius! We celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Peace and Justice Day with an amazing 3rd/4th grade performance of an original play about the Birmingham Campaign this morning. It made me incredibly proud.
50 years ago, Dr. King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took on the oppressive racial segregation of Birmingham, Alabama, with a boycott, protests, sit-ins and ultimately, a Children’s Crusade of college, high school and elementary students who marched for justice, facing jail, water hoses and even dogs in a courageous display of nonviolent direct action. The protest was a game-changer, as the entire country witnessed the unconscionable brutality of segregation, and the push for the 1964 Civil Rights Act picked up steam.
3rd/4th grade teacher Janet Gray McKennis brought this story to life with an original script based on primary source material. Like many Ancona teachers, Janet combines a passion for activism and social justice with a commitment to meaningful learning. For many years now, she has written a unique play highlighting a particular aspect of Dr. King’s life and work for our annual assembly. Her teammates Rebecca Kotler, Scott Roberts and Bert Rice add direction, staging, scenery and technical expertise. Mr. Baldwin leads protest music from the period, and many others pitch in to make it a success.
It’s a terrific piece of integrated curriculum. Throughout the weeks of preparation, students grapple with the difficult issues of segregation and injustice while, at the same time, learning the lessons of courage, nonviolence and the strength of groups to make change. They draw lessons about bullying and discrimination that are relevant for their own lives. Reading, writing and vocabulary work are all related to the history project.
The entire audience of several hundred was visibly moved this morning, and when we got to We Shall Overcome at the end, I found it unusually resonant. I could not help but reflect on the difference between Birmingham in 1963 and the Ancona parents, who, in that very same year, responded to the Civil Rights movement by founding an interracial school. Diversity, justice, activism — they are in our bones.
We’re going to look at Ancona’s 50 Years of Diversity at a Symposium on Saturday, March 2. An exciting panel of educators plus a number of Ancona’s own teachers, parents and alumni will be speaking and conducting workshops. Plan to join us!