Teachers are seen by their communities as vast wells of knowledge to draw from. Because of that professional stereotype, we often take what we are taught in school at face value, without ever challenging it. This can lead to an accumulation of misinformation that can affect how we think and behave our entire lives. This is exactly what graduate student Awele Makeba is trying to change about the way the Civil Rights Movement is taught in American schools from elementary up through the college level. Makeba performed “Rage is not a One-Day Thing” in the Arts Building on Oct. 13th. Her show drew in UAA professors, students, and special guest, Attourney Mahalay Ashley Dickason, an African-American woman who was practicing law in Montgomery, Ala. during the Civil Rights Movement.
The performance's structure was carefully devised by Makeba to accomplish things that traditional American teaching techniques can not. Makeba entered the stage in character as Claudette Colvin after a brief introduction by UAA History Professor Liz Dennison.
“Hello. My name is Claudette Colvin, …and I'm angry, just like you,” Makeba started.
After the play, she instructed the audience members to turn to each other and discuss the play and their reactions to it. After a few minutes of conversation, Makeba returned in her own clothes, wearing her own face and speaking in her own voice for the first time that night. She listened to the reactions of her audience and answered questions.
Makeba says that by conducting a class in this manner, rather than using a lecture format or just assigning readings, the teaching and learning process can be greatly improved. The students are free to challenge the validity and truth of the knowledge they're being faced with. The teacher can adapt to new information and situations and thusly evolve the lesson.
Makeba's play “Rage is not a One-Day Thing” is the heart of her thesis project for San Francisco State University, where she is working towards her master's degree in elementary education.
“Where did that courage come from?” Makeba asks as her reason for studying the people involved in the events that led up to the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery. Makeba says she is looking for the young people whom textbooks omit from history – the ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
“I wanted to find the stories of young people for young people,” Makeba said.
Among those young heroes Makeba has found through interviewing Civil Rights Activists, searching libraries, and traveling around the country, are Colvin, Mary Louise Smith and Joanne Robinson. Those three women, along with Rosa Parks, are the main characters in Makeba's play. Makeba is the sole writer and star of “Rage is not a One-Day Thing,” switching back from character to character with an effortless twist of her facial expressions, mannerisms and voices.
Colvin was a 15-year-old sophomore in Montgomery who was arrested in 1955 for not getting out of her seat on the bus. She was originally charged with numerous offenses, but was only convicted for violating the segregation code, resisting arrest and assault. Because of Makeba's thorough research and personal interviews with Colvin, items that have been neglected in history may now be presented in education. For example, several charges were dropped from Colvin's case before trial to keep the case small enough that it would not go to a higher court for appeal.
Recognizing these aspects of institutionalized racism is very important to Makeba's work on her play.
The piece Makeba performed for UAA was the 20th draft of her script. She has been revising it for the past year. For the completion of her thesis, Makeba will have two versions of the script. One version will be for adult education and the other for youth education. She will also adapt the play into a storybook about Colvin for elementary children.
Palmer's Butte Elementary School Principal LeBron McPhail and Prof. Dennison are responsible for bringing Makeba to UAA to share her program. The UAA performance was also sponsored by Women's Studies, AHAINA and the Office of Diversity Compliance.
“She's been a blessing in disguise in this school district,” McPhail said of Makeba.
Many of the audience agreed during the after-show discussion that this new kind of teaching has opened their eyes to how one-sided and neglecting textbook education can be.
“To see these teens and women clearly is to be strengthened in the possibilities of our own humanity,” Makeba said.
One particular misnomer that she is striving to dispel is the textual information surrounding Rosa Parks and the events leading up to the Montgomery bus boycott.
“We hear that she wouldn't stand up because her feet were tired. But, if we accept that then we don't understand,” Makeba said. Parks' feet weren't any more tired than usual, she says. Parks knew exactly what she was doing by refusing to give up her seat for a white person.
“Debunk the myth of Rosa Parks in our textbooks,” Makeba urges teachers. “And allow your students to enter the lives and world of JoAnn Robinson, Mary Louise Smith and Claudette Colvin, who acted with Rosa Parks and their community in a social movement to overthrow injustice.”
For more information about Makeba or her play, visit .