DC’s Shining Stars at the Lincoln Memorial: “And I say to myself it’s a wonderful world”

By Louise Parker Kelley

Students from Shining Stars Montessori Academy, with help from teacher Louise Parker Kelley, read their essays from the book "Called to the Mall: An Anthology of Stories About the Mall" at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Students from Shining Stars Montessori Academy, with help from teacher Louise Parker Kelley, read their essays from the book “Called to the Mall: An Anthology of Stories About the Mall” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The lyric above does rather sum up how I felt on September 25th when students from Shining Stars Montessori Academy in Washington, DC, stood confidently on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to read their essays about the National Mall from our new book, Called to the Mall: An Anthology of Stories About the Mall.

The children were poised, able to declare what they knew and believed, so clear about what they wanted the world to know.

There is so much to celebrate about the National Mall, and I feel they understand this better and in some ways more deeply than I do.

With leaders like this coming up, I can let myself believe in our future, as a country, as a world.  I think this kind of writing is so much more powerful than requiring students to repeat a rote pledge or promise unquestioning obedience to the nation.  What does it mean to appreciate all of our history, to know what went wrong, to decide this must change? We can only be sure of what we stand for when we have the courage to ask if we are living up to the promise of the U.S. Constitution, have the courage to act and take a stand.

In addition to student essays, Called to the Mall includes powerful stories told by adults. In “They Came,” Dr. Carolivia Herron reminds us of the misplaced fear mongering and skepticism of the media during the March on Washington on August 28th, 1963. Sitting on the ground near the Lincoln Memorial and listening on her transistor radio that morning, she hears the announcer say over and over that no one is coming.

But then, “while you are sitting there sad, they come, all of them. First a few of them, then more, then a lot, then everyone – they came. They are carrying signs, they are marching and singing, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Later you find out that when the radio announcers are laughing and saying that no one is coming, the Freedom buses loaded with marchers are coming through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel at the rate of 30 a minute, 40 a minute, 50 – making their way to the March on Washington. . . In the evening the radio news reporters never mention the mean things they were saying in the morning. In the evening they talk about the victory and success of the Civil Rights Movement and the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.”

In the book’s Introduction, Dr. Regina Rodriguez, Executive Director of Shining Stars Montessori Academy, tells about the origins, inspiration, and purpose of the Called to the Mall project.

She writes, “How can we teach children how to be active citizens in a democracy? What can they teach us about what it means to effectively use the rights promised to us under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Why is learning about our history and heritage so important?”

“We can explore some of these questions here at Shining Stars Montessori Academy Pubic Charter School with the power of story. We read to them about heroes who pursued justice and peace. We share what we have studied and encourage their curiosity as they plunge into research. Then, if we are wise, we get out of the way so they can tell their stories about the people and events that matter to them.”

“And then, because we are fortunate enough to live here in the capital of the United States, we take them to the National Mall.”

“That’s what we did with our young writers in September of 2016, when the Langston Hughes Stars class went to the Lincoln Memorial. The children read their essays, the stories they wanted to tell about the people and events that happened here on our American Acropolis; they were able to display the art they had created. I listened to these students that day and pondered how deeply they inspired me as they exercised the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly.”

“This happened because the students put their talents to work, and also because of the generous support of the National Mall Coalition. We then contacted the Coalition in the spring of 2017 and asked if we could take it to a higher level, and publish the student work. The answer was a welcome ‘yes,’ with a request that other writers from schools in Maryland and Virginia be invited to participate, as well as some adults with their own National Mall stories to tell.”

“Now, on September 25, 2017, the day the Bill of Rights was ratified, we are once again Called to the Mall to share the glory of story. We come with a book; we come, as always, in peace.”

As one of the founders of the Called to the Mall project, I am excited to continue to work with the National Mall Coalition, to build on our success so far by involving our students and their families, and students and adults all over the Washington region and beyond, in celebrating our country’s history

• Louise Parker Kelley is a Writing Specialist at Shining Stars Montessori Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.


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