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‘What’s worth fighting for?’ Middle-schoolers reflect on Civil Rights movement

Crestwood Elementary School social studies teacher Victoria Waite posed a question to the classroom of six-graders.“What is the thing in your life that is worth fighting for through peaceful protest?”

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From left, eighth-graders Adam Khidar and Thidrry Iranzi experience a timeline of history about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement

Sheyanne Byrom, Alona Bailey and Leilani Moore jotted down their thoughts.

“Knowledge, family, education, rights, myself,” were among their answers, written on paper leaves to represent leaves of change.

Students considered the power of their own voices during the lesson titled, “Have we reached the mountaintop?” They studied the Civil Rights movement, including key events like the March on Washington Aug. 28, 1963, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s important to stand up for what you believe in, to let people know that what you believe is important and what you do is important,” Sheyanne said.

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Activities throughout the school honored Civil Rights leaders and challenged students to consider race relations today. More than 40 students honored leaders including Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Nelson Mandela with cardboard presentations in the in “Hall of Heroes.”

A timeline documented Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, and students created a stained glass window art project made up of words that tell the story of Crestwood. Students ended the morning with a silent march.

Seventh-grader Marissa Williams created a poster about Rosa Parks. “She was a very good role model… She lit the match that started the fire of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”

Artwork and history merge in the halls of Crestwood Middle School

Representing King’s Dream

One could say Crestwood Middle School epitomizes King’s dream for racial integration. With nearly 9,000 students and more than 60 languages spoken in homes, Kentwood is the most diverse school district in Michigan. The diversity makes it even more important “to understand the differences of us,” said Principal Don Dahlquist. “That’s our strength.”

Waite said teaching Civil Rights to middle-schoolers helps show them change is possible.

“Anytime we can give anyone a voice, it’s so important… to encourage them to realize they have rights and they can make a change. This is the generation that is our future and they are going to make the world a better place.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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