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    Civil Rights Icon Encourages Seattle Students to Become Civically Engaged
    Posted on 04/28/2017
    Congressman John Lewis at Benaroya Hall
    Were you scared when you marched,” asked a young boy from the audience. “People had told us we may be arrested, we may be jailed, we may be beaten. But I was prepared…on the bridge from Selma to Montgomery, on that march, I thought I was going to die, but I was not afraid.” ­­– Congressman John Lewis at Benaroya Hall


    Reflecting a long history of partnership between the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and Seattle Public Schools (SPS), both institutions recently joined to facilitate a significant donation of books to the district, plus the opportunity for students to hear from a civil rights icon, U.S. Congressman John Lewis. The books arrived in schools during spring break and will serve as valuable supplementary curricular materials for civics, ethnic studies (see the Ethnic Studies Task Force) and other subject areas.

    The donation originated from SAM supporter and Seattle attorney, Mathew Bergman, who provided 3000 copies of the March trilogy plus tickets to see its authors at a sold-out SAM event held in Benaroya Hall. Of the 3000 copies, 1800 will be used in schools while the remaining 1200, plus tickets to the Benaroya Hall event, were offered to students of Cleveland, Franklin, Garfield, and Rainier Beach, high schools with which Bergman had connections to in the past.

    The March trilogy is Congressman John Lewis’ first-hand account of participation in the civil rights movement told as a graphic memoir. “March tells the story of a young kid growing up very, very poor, churched by what I call, the spirit of history,” said the congressman. “Churched by the teaching of Martin Luther King Jr, the teaching of Gandhi, Thoreau, and others. That when you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, say something and not be quiet.”

    Congressman Lewis made that comment during the event at Benaroya Hall. The students who came were quite moved. “This experience has greatly impacted me,” said William Nguyen, student at Franklin High School. “I learned that through activism I can impact the world despite what others say. This event is most definitely life changing.”

    Another Franklin student, Namaka Auwae-Dekker, said: “The event was eye opening. It was an opportunity to start conversations with people of different perspectives and beliefs. I think it reaffirmed the effectiveness of activism and the success of nonviolent protest.”

    In addition to winning multiple awards and topping bestsellers lists, March won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Central office staff representing English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Visual Arts content areas are in the planning stages to provide professional development for teachers which would be generalized in nature, but also applicable to using the March trilogy. 

    In producing March, the congressman collaborated with his staff member Andrew Aydin and award-winning illustrator Nate Powell. Their project took inspiration from a comic book that was popular during the civil rights movement titled Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. That comic was edited by King and used as a tool to inspire and instruct young people in non-violence and civil disobedience, goals that Congressman Lewis and his collaborators shared in producing March for the current generation.

    “I had grown up in his district, and nobody had told me what a role young people played,” said Aydin, a resident of Congressman Lewis’ district since the age of three. Aydin went on to explain the “nine-word problem,” a name given to the fact that many students only know nine words about the civil rights movement: 'Rosa Parks,' 'Martin Luther King,' and 'I have a dream.' As a remedy for that, Aydin noted that public school districts and universities across the country have been adopting March into their curriculums.

    March is a highly engaging and powerful depiction of the dedication of the 1960's civil rights movement, and of one of its American heroes, Congressman John Lewis,” said Kyle Kinoshita, Chief of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction for SPS. “It is a rich resource that helps young people understand the enormous obstacles the movement faced, and the courage combined with intentional actions to advance the cause of justice and equity.”

    See the full video of the congressman’s talk, including a moving performance by the Total Experience Gospel Choir, on the Seattle Art Museum’s blog. 

     March Trilogy: Congressman Lewis and Authors Speak at Benaroya Hall