About two dozen mostly elementary school-age students spent their day off from school Monday learning the history of the civil rights movement and donating their time to give back to the community.
The students participated in McDaniel College's seventh annual A Day On Not a Day Off, an event for students in kindergarten through grade 12 held in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event, which was held Monday morning on the McDaniel campus, was also organized by Carroll County Public Schools and sponsored by the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education at McDaniel College and the Carroll County NAACP.
"It's just such an important event in so many ways," said Jennifer Jimenez Maraña, director of diversity and multicultural affairs at McDaniel.
Although most McDaniel students are still on winter break, Maraña said, several volunteered to help run the event, shuttling groups of kids and community members to different learning stations.
"Everyone is learning together, said Kristen Maddock, associate director of community engagement at McDaniel.
Before the day was over, the students learned to ad-lib their own versions of "This Little Light of Mine" and decorated cards to send to Westminster's Golden LivingCenter nursing home.
Each year the college and the school system have hosted the Day On event, they have selected a different theme within the civil rights movement to focus on, said Pat Levroney, supervisor of equity and community outreach for CCPS.
The first year, she said, the day focused on King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Last year's event commemorated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and gave students the chance to take a literacy test given to potential voters in Louisiana to test their education before they could vote.
This year, the day focused on women in the civil rights movement.
Pamela Zappardino, co-founder of the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education, asked the students to name women they knew of who had played a role in the movement. Only a few names were offered up. There is a reason for that, Zappardino said.
"We don't hear very much about women in the civil rights movement," she said. "But there were many of them."
The students then visited with four local volunteers, each of whom portrayed a different female involved in the movement.
Nira Taru, a second-grade teacher at Sandymount Elementary School, told the story of Amelia Boynton Robinson, a Selma, Alabama, woman and voting rights organizer who was beaten while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. To look the part of Robinson, who marched on Bloody Sunday, she said she borrowed her mother's hat and brooch.
"To be able to represent Amelia Boynton Robinson's life today is such an honor," she said. "I just hope I do her story justice."
Winfield resident Martha Greene told the students about Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer, a Mississippi woman who, through the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, help organized the 1964 Freedom Summer African-American voter registration drive. Greene was known for her famous quote, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."
The Day On event, Greene said, is close to her heart. In 1963, Greene, in her early 20s at the time, participated in the March on Washington and watched King speak.
"It was such a good day," she said. "It made an impression that day, but when I see it on TV today, it brings tears to my eyes."
Talking to kids about the experience of civil rights activists is always rewarding said Greene, who participated in the event last year as well. Many are so surprised to learn people, including Hamer, were living on plantations and working as sharecroppers as recently as the 1960s, she said.
"Some of them are in awe," she said. "They were really interested."
At other stations, the students learned about Dorothy Cotton, the highest ranking female in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the 1960s, and Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from Michigan who was killed by Ku Klux Klansmen in 1965 as she traveled from a voting rights march in Montgomery, Alabama.
For Campbell West, a third-grader at Lisbon Elementary School in Howard County, Liuzzo was her favorite female activist to learn about.
"I play that instrument," she said, smiling.
Campbell attended the event at McDaniel with her brother, Ben, and their grandmother, Virginia Harrison, a member of the Carroll County Board of Education.
Even though she said she was confident she knew more about the civil rights movement than just about any of her peers, Campbell, 9, said it was the first she had ever heard the names of the four women featured.
Usually, she likes having the day off from school, but coming to the event was a good reminder that the day is more than a break from school, she said.
"This is one of the first times I'm actually celebrating it," she said.
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