Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated in two different ways in Red Lodge, MT. Working with the local public schools, AmeriCorps members (five VISTAs and a Food Corps) and Domestic & Sexual Violence Services organized celebrations for both the elementary and middle school students.
The morning was spent facilitating a simulation of segregation, where AmeriCorps members introduced MLK Day, reading ‘The Sneetches’ by Dr. Seuss and discussing MLK’s legacy briefly. Students were then given a name badge to be worn all day, either green or blue. Teachers were asked to make their classroom part of the simulation and many teachers were very invested in participating. Green students were tasked with the difficulties of being discriminated, with some teachers taking away supplies, students having to sit on the floor, and unable to use restrooms and water fountains (they had to travel over to the elementary school to do so). If students were sent to “detention” they were greeted by a not-so-friendly face and they were forced to take the Louisiana Literacy Test that was distributed for voting rights.
Throughout the morning students became frustrated and eventually protests broke-out, especially when greens had to sit on the floor during lunch. The simulation came to an end after lunch/recess and was wrapped up with a reflection assembly. Students were asked to reflect on the difficulties of the morning and also presented ways in which the Civil Rights Movement still effects us today.
Afterwards, AmeriCorps members, along with community volunteers, transitioned over to the elementary school, where volunteers read two books to every grade. First, ‘The Sneetches’ was read, discussing Dr. Seuss’ wonderful story about Star-Bellied and Plan-Bellied Sneetches. Additionally volunteers read a book specifically about MLK Jr., allowing students to gain more prospective on the day. And of course the word spread fast from the middle to the elementary school about the simulation, so volunteers were encouraged to discuss the simulation with the younger students.
Overall the day was a success. As one of the few states where schools remain open on this important day of remembrance, Red Lodge AmeriCorps members took this as an opportunity to engage students in exploring the topic and understanding its true value: how the Civil Rights Movement still impacts our lives today.