It has happened again. Just when you think the country is headed into the Dumpster, our young people show us that they can take the lead. They are laser-focused and willing to put up a fight against anyone. They are bright, clever and can unify for a cause.
No, I’m not talking about the survivors of the recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — although, admittedly, they have used their social media savvy to become a force against the sale of weapons of war and the people who support that. They have become a movement.
What I am referring to in this instance is something that only a few people witnessed. It was an interesting Black History Month program last week at Napoleonville Middle School, where I was the guest speaker.
Finding something interesting to say to middle schoolers — fifth through eighth graders — is tough. The whole idea of it had me panicked.
As I sat waiting to make my presentation, I leaned over twice to ask a student what was the name of the school’s mascot. “The Eagles,” she proudly answered both times. I was going to let them know that I’m cool and know their mascot. It was going to be a good icebreaker.
Then came the program, and that’s when things got my attention. The co-mistress of ceremonies, a little white girl, walked up and proudly announced herself. It is important to cite her race here for reasons that will become clear. Then a number of other white students who were participating took on the personas of historic black figures. I really didn’t know what to think.
For a few seconds, I was concerned. From the looks of it, there were more than enough black students to fill every role. But, the members of the cast portrayed those roles with seriousness.
This may be happening everywhere, but I have not — well, never — seen white students play roles of historic African-American figures at Black History Month programs.
I was confused, and wondering why I was not upset — or whether I should have been upset. But I was happy to see the children’s grace and maturity in carrying out their assignments.
As I watched this play out over and over again, I scanned the student body and the parents in attendance. They all appeared to support what was going on.
School teacher and program coordinator Tonya Holloway said she was not surprised by the student participation. They all said “yes” when the positions came up. “Everyone wanted to be a part of it ... We've done it for years.”
There are some people I know who might have been offended by what happened. But I was intrigued.
If the white children had abused the roles they were playing, that might have set off bells for me. But each one of them was sincere in the portrayals. I especially liked the girl who showed off her gymnastics moves playing Olympic Goal Medal-winning gymnast Gabby Douglas.
The African-American students were awesome in playing their roles of black heroes, too.
I saw the little girl who was the co-mistress of ceremonies after the program was over. I asked if she had any reservations about playing such a main role in the Black History Month program.
“No. I was asked if I wanted to do it, and I said, ‘yeah,’” she answered matter-of-factly, as if she was asking me “Why are you asking me this question? Is there something wrong with you?”
It was as if she and a couple of teachers I talked with after the program were asking me, why shouldn’t everyone participate in this observance of Black History Month?
Principal Shawn Preston made it clear. “Skin color doesn’t decide who plays what in anything here. A black kid can play a role of white person. Everybody likes it.”
After the program, most of the participates gathered together, smiled and laughed with each other. It seemed they had a ball. Many of them even ran and squeezed into place to be in the “selfies” I was taking to mark the occasion.
A little while later, I saw that most of girls who played various roles in the BHM event were now in athletic uniforms, headed to play softball together.
As I was collecting my folder of papers, the same little girl I had asked the same question — I asked a third time — about the mascot, tapped me on the shoulder, and said with a smile. “Thank you for coming.”
No, really, thank you for having me. You've got something special there.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who now writes a weekly Advocate column, at firstname.lastname@example.org.