When Gwen Hofmeister practiced for her role to celebrate Michelle Obama, she nailed it.
She nearly memorized the report she is presenting about the former first lady’s life for the Black History Living Museum, which will be presented Monday at Falk Elementary School, 6323 Woodington Way.
“I’m only in second grade and I can do that,” Gwen said about her memorization skill.
Gwen said she chose to focus on Obama because while she is well known, not everyone knows her entire life story.
The Black History Living Museum event is being hosted by Madison School & Community Recreation’s after-school programs and will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The evening will include a soul food dinner and other activities. The event is free and open to the community.
Participants researched African-Americans they would like to dress up as in a tribute to their important historic contributions. Victoria Patterson, MSCR after-school director at Falk, said the youngsters were mostly directed to lesser-known figures who had to overcome some adversity in life. But in some cases, the students were allowed to portray someone about whom they were particularly passionate.
“There were some kids who were very persuasive,” Patterson said. “They were going to add something that we didn’t know about.”
Fifth-grader Yasmine Allen chose Bessie Coleman, who “found her passion” when she became a pilot.
Fifth-grader Brooklyn Hayes chose Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery, escaped and then helped others.
“She’s really inspiring how she risked her life to save other slaves,” Brooklyn said.
Sticking with it
Fifth-grader Elizabeth Az found Wilma Rudolph inspiring because of the metal leg brace she had to wear as a young child after contracting double pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio. Rudolph went on to win gold medals and set records as an Olympics runner.
“I chose Marian Anderson because I love singing so much,” Claire Hofmeister said about portraying the singer.
Though internationally acclaimed, Anderson was denied Washington, D.C.’s leading music venue, Constitution Hall, because of her race. She performed at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939, and the event became known worldwide as a public lambasting of segregation and racial injustice.
Second-grader Kristian Jackson said he became inspired to be an explorer while learning about Matthew Henson — an African-American explorer who may have been the first man to reach the North Pole.
Brooklyn said she was particularly interested in being part of the Black History Living Museum because her previous school didn’t celebrate Black History Month. She said she learned about more than the achievements of African-Americans.
“If you keep sticking with hard things, they start to get better in the end,” she said. “You should include everybody in every activity.”
Patterson started the living museum last year at Falk after developing and organizing a similar event when she worked at the Wisconsin Youth Company.
The few, the proud
Because 140 students are enrolled in the after-school programs at Falk, students had to audition to be part of the Black History Living Museum. There were 20 youngsters at the start but some dropped out because they were uncomfortable with the spotlight or putting in the time since they had to give up after-school recess and free-choice time to be involved. The 11 who stuck with it will be rewarded with a party afterward, Patterson said.
While some of the dinner items will be catered, Patterson will make the macaroni and cheese she grew up on from her grandmother’s recipe. The assistant director at Falk, Brenda James, will make the greens.
Patterson said she hopes the experience will teach students “our history is very big” and will help them develop more self-confidence.