“March 1968: The country was torn by turmoil. There were protests against racial injustice,” Micky Brown read aloud to a class of fourth and fifth graders at Broadwater School on Thursday morning. The students sat silently on the floor around her as she read “I’ve Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” by Walter Dean Myers.
The Martin Luther King Read for Peace project, organized by AmeriCorps, placed over 30 volunteers, including Micky Brown, in five local schools to read age-appropriate books about King to over 800 students. The readings were followed by reflection activities to be on display at ExplorationWorks today and the Capitol Building in February in honor of Black History Month.
“It was not fair and it was not right,” Brown, a project manager at Retired Seniors and Volunteer Programs, told the students, explaining segregation. Brown lived in Alabama during the 1960s and recalled memories of being bused to a white school across town while black students were bused to another school.
She also shared memories of the marches King lead down the streets of the south. She urged the students to see others as “just people” regardless of their skin color.
James Buscher, Youth Connections special project coordinator, also volunteered for the event and read “Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” by Doreen Rappaport, to first graders at Broadwater School. He said the students were very attentive and asked questions prompted by the illustrations of segregation in the book. Segregation was a difficult concept for the youngsters to grasp and they are fortunate for that, he said.
AmeriCorp MTCC VISTA at Helena School District, Gladys Walter, organized the local event. This year is the first year the event, which originated in Missoula, went statewide. Thirteen communities around Montana participated in the MLK Read for Peace project.
Walter said Brown coordinated with Retired Seniors and Volunteer Programs and produced many of the volunteers for the activity. Other volunteers included State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Gov. Steve Bullock and Lt. Gov. John Walsh. As a Helena School
District VISTA, Walter’s focus is to foster parent activity in Title I schools.
Walter considered the reading activity a success and was pleased with the results of the reflection activity.
“A couple actually brought tears to my eyes,” she said.
Both students and volunteers had positive reactions to the activities and many volunteers, like Brown, shared firsthand memories of King’s affects on the country, which benefited the students’ understanding of events, she said.