The students of Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School received an up-close look at celebrities, politicians, movers and shakers, and notable people from the past and present when they breathed life into the Living History Museum Feb. 28.
Brown’s school counselor Tiffany Cook saw a social media post of a group of college students participating in a similar event, and thought she could introduce it to younger students as a way to spark an interest in history.
Generating a list of well-known people from history — President Abraham Lincoln, businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker and civil rights activist Rosa Parks, as well as contemporary figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders, actress Tracee Ellis Ross and ballet dancer Misty Copeland — Cook worked with the media instructional assistant Sandra Jennings to draft quick biographies for the performers.
Twenty-two students, nominated by their teachers, took part in the program, ranging from second to fifth graders. They set up the museum in the gym with Jarrell Watson, whose son is a first grader at Brown, showcasing his family’s collection of historic artifacts and antiques on the stage. The collection ranges from pieces brought back from around Africa to Americana items like vintage Coca-Cola signs, typewriters and a sewing machine used by Watson’s great-grandmother.
The adults got in on the fun, too. Cook dressed as Shirley Chisholm, the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for president of the United States and the first woman to run for the democratic party’s presidential nomination.
“I am doing it not only for persons of color, but for women too,” she said of donning a wig and outfit that fit in with Chisholm’s 1972 aesthetic. She chose to emulate Chisholm, who dressed in a different style to Cook’s, to spark conversation. “I wanted to shock the kids so they had to ask a question,” she said.
Elijah Gutrick, a third grader, was boxer and activist Muhammad Ali. “He was more than a boxer,” Gutrick said. “He was also an Olympian and one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.” Second-grade student Christopher Flores wore a suit for his “character” but it was the mask he’d lift up to his face that sold his performance. “My mom talked to me a lot about Bernie Sanders,” Flores said of why he chose the senator from Vermont to perform. “He wants to help people who didn’t have health insurance, he wants to help poor people. I want to help people, too.”
Mariah Harris, a fifth grader, portrayed entertainer Beyoncé during the museum. She enjoyed seeing students in costume and others visiting the museum to learn more. “It’s nice to have a visual representation,” Harris said. “I’m seeing all of these people as people, you know?”
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.