GARY | Aspire Charter Academy has transformed its school into the 1960s period when demonstrations, sit-ins and marches were common during the civil rights movement.
Throughout the building some drinking fountains were marked "whites only" and others, "colored only." Some of the youngsters approached the fountain with a little trepidation, not sure whether they should even get a drink. Students will experience racial prejudice through Friday at the school's drinking fountains. Any student caught drinking from the wrong fountain will be sent to detention.
Aspire second-grader Michael Tillman, 7, said the things that happened during that period were unfair. "I didn't understand as much before. A lot of people thought they were kidding but it hurt people," he said.
Aspire eighth-grader Richard Anyanwu, 13, said it educates him and his classmates about what happened during that era. "You get a feel for what it was really like, and get to experience the times of Martin Luther King and other civil rights' activists," he said.
Donald Thompson, the school's director of visual and performing arts, and Sophia Hughes, dean and chairman of the black history program, said the drinking-fountain activity will culminate Friday with a production titled, "From the Fountains of Segregation to the Fountains of Opportunities" scheduled for 4 p.m. Afterward, all drinking fountains will be open to all students.
Hughes said the black history program goes hand in hand with the state's new academic standards calling for more rigor and critical thinking.
"We made this a real-life, project-based learning experience. I saw some of the students hesitate, looking at the signs, thinking about it and how it relates to them," she said.
She said the schoolwide project also is promoting the seven principles of Kwanzaa, and that students need to keep those in mind 365 days of the year, not just during the holiday period.
Thompson said the school expects about 350 people who will see music, dance and other performances in honor of Black History month.
Friday's presentation also will honor two women who will be celebrating 100-plus years. The ladies were participants of Selma and civil rights experiences of the 1960s, Thompson said.
The two are Anna Black, of Gary, and Cherry White, a Gary native now living in Chicago. Both were daughters of slaves who worked on Southern plantations. White also participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March.