Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

A new approach to Black History Month

Interactive program offers African journey through eyes of a teen

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Stephen N. Ellis decided he wanted this year’s Black History Month program at the Bladensburg Community Center to be different.

‘‘We’ve done a number of different types of black history programs in the past. A number of stage shows, African dance shows, community talent shows,” said Ellis, the center’s program director. ‘‘This time around we wanted to do one that gave more of a perspective of going through the diaspora and have it be interactive.”

In order to do that, Ellis asked Lora Fitzgerald to create a four-week, interactive black history class that meets 6 to 7 p.m. Fridays at the community center, 4500 57th Ave. Each class explores a different aspect of the African diaspora from a teen’s perspective, said Fitzgerald, who majored in African-American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

‘‘We’re taking them on a journey from Africa to now from the perspective of a teen,” Ellis said. ‘‘Hopefully it will provide some enlightenment about where they came from and who they are ... and spark an interest in learning more about their history and even other people’s histories.”

At the first class Feb. 1, Thomas Bailey, 11, of Lanham said he was excited when his mother told him about the class because he’s always been interested in history.

‘‘I’ve always liked studying history because when you learn about what happened in the past you won’t make the same mistake again,” he said. He is home-schooled by his mother, Cricket Bailey of Lanham.

‘‘With Thomas being home-schooled, I’m always looking for interesting ways to teach my son,” she said. ‘‘[Fitzgerald] had a very interesting and innovative way of teaching.”

For Fitzgerald’s first lesson, she taught the children about what it would have been like to live as a teen in Ghana.

‘‘I chose Ghana because a lot of the slaves that were brought here were taken from Ghana,” she said. ‘‘So a lot of the stuff we’re talking about isn’t taught in the curriculum at school.”

For example, Fitzgerald gave the students a summary what coming of age would have been like for young girls and boys in Ghana’s Ashanti tribe, something Reina Tavares, 9, of Lanham said she enjoyed.

‘‘I liked learning about what it was like for a girl and boy,” she said. ‘‘Boys just played while the girls did the work.”

The next three lessons will tackle slavery, the civil rights movement and hip-hop culture. Students are also able to earn community service hours for attending the workshop, but that wasn’t what caused Takesha McDaniel, 16, of Lanham to spend her Friday night learning about black history.

‘‘It just interests me. I like learning about new things, so this was just another opportunity to learn. I didn’t even know we were getting community service [hours] until today,” she said.

E-mail Maya T. Prabhu at