Black history and women’s history intersect at Uniondale School’s ‘wax museum’

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“Welcome to the Blacks in Wax Museum,” said “Sidney Poitier” as he greeted guests on Wednesday at Northern Parkway School’s two-room exhibit space. “Please enjoy our exhibit and don’t touch the wax figures.”

Poitier was actually Olamide Otulaja, 10; the wax figures were his fifth grade classmates at Uniondale Elementary School; and the exhibit highlighted the achievements of black women in politics, the arts and the civil rights movement as the school transitioned from celebrating Black History Month to celebrating Women’s History Month. women.

Guests could admire “wax-like” likenesses of political titans like Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress and the first woman and African-American to seek the nomination for president of a major political party; Stacey Abrams, the suffrage activist currently running for governor of Georgia; Vice President Kamala Harris; and civil rights activists Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin, Mamie Till and others.

Information about performing artists like Poitier, the Academy Award-winning actor and civil rights activist who died in January, was also on display.

The Blacks in Wax Museum is a project of the school’s fifth grade class.

“Our students studied historical figures, themed around the women behind the movement,” said Shielah Jefferson-Isaac, vice-principal at the school, which covers kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Our ‘wax figures’ are part of ‘dream chasers,'” she said of the fifth graders who have been together since sophomore. “So they are a community within a community. Teachers are known as ‘dream keepers,’” she said, adding, “Our goal is to ensure that our students have rich experiences and are empowered to become leaders.

Chanda Smart-Smith, a fifth-grade teacher, said that in February, during Black History Month, the goal was to celebrate “the women behind the [civil rights] movement.”

“We’ve turned it into Women’s History Month to celebrate African American women — past, present, and future,” she said.

Relevant details about the historical figures represented by each student were displayed on a print affixed to a desk, along with a QR code – a type of barcode containing information on the subject – that the students developed, said their teachers.

A class of first graders sat on the floor with their iPads and, through QR codes, listened to the voices of fifth graders reciting some highlights from the lives of historical figures, like Colvin, who, A 15-year-old from Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person and sit in the back of the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks did the same.

Several students stood perfectly still behind their desks, not speaking – they were wax figures, after all – their clothing often evoking the historical person’s era or style.

The student representing Meghan Markle, or the Duchess of Sussex, wore a ‘fascinator’ hat, which female British royalty are known to wear, while the student replacing Harris wore a white pantsuit and beaded, dressy touches for which the vice president is known. .

Isabella Medrano, 10, portrayed Parks. “I wanted to play her because she was one of the first people to stand up for herself,” Isabella said during a break.

Beside Isabella stood 10-year-old Tamia Tobin, who played Colvin. She said Colvin’s decision not to give up her seat on that Montgomery bus “means a lot to me because she stood up for herself and stood up for justice for black people.”

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