Southside Elementary School fifth-grader Warren Stevens learned that Africa is where many musical instruments originated, and that during slavery, quilts with distinct patterns and symbols were hung outside to signal safety ahead to help slaves escape.
Fourth-grader Corey Otting learned the true spirit and meaning of African songs.
Garrett Elementary School third-graders researched the African Pygmy tribe and learned that they were small people who hunted their own food.
Down the hall, fifth-grader William Hutto learned about Georgia's legal system and decided he wanted to be a judge.
The pupils were part of the area's elementary, middle and high school black history programs held in February. School activities included plays, trivia, projects, singing of the black "national anthem," essay writing, dance routines, poetry readings, soul food dinners and guest speakers, such as Augusta Superior Court Judge Carl Brown, who spoke to Garrett fourth- and fifth-graders Feb. 18.
Judge Brown told the children a story about a man named Jim who is now on death row after a series of events including shoplifting, driving without a license, stealing a car, assault, being unable to read well enough to fill out an application, robbery and, later, killing an officer - all stemming from his dropping out in the ninth grade.
During his talk, Judge Brown showed the children prison uniforms, handcuffs and shackles. He then answered pupils' questions, which included whether people are allowed to brush their teeth in jail, whether he was one of the serious judges and what people eat in jail.
He told the children whatever they strived to be or do started with their education, and he taught them the acronym S.T.O.P.
"Select the company you keep. Think. Obey the law. Prepare," he said. "The whole purpose of education is to prepare you for life."
William, 10, said he learned how the lack of an education can ruin a person's life and said he'd like to be a judge to decide justice for people.
"I thought this would be all boring, like I might as well get my pillow and lay down, but the story about Jim caught my attention because I'd never heard a story like that," he said. "It's amazing how something real little can become real big. I'll remember to S.T.O.P. and to listen - to parents and teachers."
Melissa Becker had her third-grade class research African tribes and create masks based on what they learned.
Roasia Bullard and Hailey Pearson, both 9, researched the Ashanti tribe. Roasia said she learned the government had a pyramid-type structure.
"And they hunt cheetahs, and the women mostly make the clothes," Hailey said.
Alvin and Barbara Franklin, the owners and directors of Studio Art Gro, and African drummer Donald McKenzie presented the African Suitcase, a ceremony of drumming, poetry, storytelling and singing, to pupils at Southside. After showing several African instruments and a mask, Mrs. Franklin recited Color of Me, a poem she wrote about her black, Irish and Indian heritage.
"Performances like these are dire in society because they give children an identity and promote the connecting of one another and different races," she said. "I do the poem because it teaches that it's not just a black-white issue, it's a human issue, and to teach racial tolerance and increase tolerance of the African-American culture."
In addition to learning varying sounds of African drums and a few African words, Warren and Corey, both 10, said they learned that not all Africans were brought here as slaves.
"The show was important for us to learn about what our ancestors had to go through to get us to where we are today," Warren said.
"And we know what diversity means," Corey said. "Different."
Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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