On the far side of the Ebenezer Middle School library on Tuesday, Barack Obama sat in a rocking chair, still, at seventh-grade sized, without a beard or silvered hair.When students rang a bell on the table that also held a poster board with photos …
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Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson
On the far side of the Ebenezer Middle School library on Tuesday, Barack Obama sat in a rocking chair, still, at seventh-grade sized, without a beard or silvered hair.
When students rang a bell on the table that also held a poster board with photos and facts about the former and first black United States president, the student who was impersonating him stood up, walked to a podium to his left and recited a monologue about the man the pre-teen chose to be for a living museum project.
Shyheem Haynes was one of a baker's dozen of English and honors English seventh-graders at the Dalzell school who participated in the Black History Month living museum. Students chose a black American from history, sports or pop culture to research, make a poster about, dress up like and recite a biography about. The idea is to bring a wax museum to life.
"I feel like he made a big impact in the U.S., and he made history by being the first black president," Haynes said about why he chose Obama.
He said in his research, he learned Obama lived in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Indonesia.
Learning through research and learning how to research were key points Melissa Pollard wanted students to glean from the assignment.
"And just the thirst for knowledge to get to know more about their own culture, as well," the teacher said of this first-year assignment. "I just want kids to see that differences are what make the world go 'round. We all have our own identities, and it never hurts to learn more about another culture."
In front of Haynes' Obama stood Jackie Robinson, portrayed by seventh-grader Desia Hall.
She said she chose the Brooklyn Dodgers player who became the first black person to play Major League Baseball in the modern era because she plays softball at Ebenezer and was inspired after seeing the movie "42" that told his story.
Something she learned about Robinson was that his number is the only one to be retired by the entire MLB.
Throughout the media center, where students from other classes wandered from table to table ringing bells to hear about their classmates' portrayals of famous black Americans, books were displayed on the tops of shelves, ranging in subject from Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. to Oprah and Jay-Z.
"Making the mind a powerful weapon"
The living museum may have brought the media center to life, but it was just one part of the Black History Month program Ebenezer held on Tuesday. The guest speaker during an event in the gym may not be a historical figure, but his fame on a current TV show allowed his words to resonate with middle-schoolers.
"Respect takes us a long way. It's always important to go to college and get the education, but more so, respect, how you treat people, how you talk to people emulates your background, how you grew up, just everything about you. Sometimes, it'll take you further than education in some ways," Richland County Deputy Kevin Lawrence said.
Lawrence is part of the Community Action Team in Richland and appears regularly on the A&E show "Live PD," where cameras follow deputies during their patrol. Sometimes it can be like "Cops," but this show goes deeper into the reasons police officers do what they do and why they make certain decisions, which are often less dramatic but more educational to the audience.
Lawrence told a story of a woman he found with drugs. He only gave her a ticket but talked with her for 45 minutes. He said months later she ran into him and thanked him for the talk. She now had a job, a house and had been allowed custody of her kids again.
When he is not on the show, Lawrence is in the community, in schools, teaching people about the law and building a positive relationship between residents and cops.
"We have to have respect for one another. We have to care for one another, and we have to put God back in schools and put God back in our lives," Lawrence said.
Marlissa Morton, a seventh-grade science teacher, organized the program and started planning for it in August. She said the students asked her to get Lawrence to speak.
"I hope the students learn and they are able to take away that their mouth is the most powerful tool that they have, and that their mouth is either going to help them be successful or set them back along the way in life," she said.
That message, which Lawrence delivered to a gym full of students and teachers who also watched performances of African heritage from the Ebenezer staff and student choirs and the Lemira Elementary School percussion ensemble, was what Assistant Principal Jeff Barrineau said the school tries to pass along to students every day.
"[Children] don't always consider their mind being as powerful, but when, in reality, it is," Barrineau said. "And we want our children to take that message that their mind is powerful and that they do have to grow and develop and be respectful of others in that process."
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