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Closing the racial gap: Local children remember King
by Ruth Anderson
Jan 19, 2009 | 950 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Tony Contini - Linnea Skaar, left, and Rosarely Ruelas participate in creating mobiles o0f their dreams at the Boys and Girls Club on Monday.
Tribune/Tony Contini - Linnea Skaar, left, and Rosarely Ruelas participate in creating mobiles o0f their dreams at the Boys and Girls Club on Monday.
As 73 children were separated by the color of their hair and clothing, it was an awkward but visual depiction of prejudice that civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against – catered to the young.

This "Discrimination Experiment," which was part of the local Boys and Girls Club's Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance day on Monday, was intended to show children the negative effects of segregation. Loosely based on schoolteacher Jane Elliot's "blue-eyed/ brown-eyed" psychology exercise in 1968 immediately King’s assassination, the exercise allows children to view a social system that bases its class structure on arbitrary factors such as skin color.

King envisioned a world where all people could sit down together at the table of brotherhood and children of all colors could join hands as sisters and brothers. Now, 46 years later, it seems King's dream may have been realized through the next generation.

The Truckee Meadows Boys and Girls Club celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with an afternoon of enlightening activities. As the group sat down for lunch, the four large tables in the cafeteria seated children of every color. Sitting side by side were black, white, Hispanic and Asian children, living a dream that King worked to achieve as an activist.

"We have a very diverse group," said Rick Stevens, director of operations for the Truckee Meadows Boys and Girls Club. "Looking at this in a historical context, it's wonderful that it has gotten to the point that we are all in one room together."

For the holiday, club members from all Reno-Sparks locations convened for an afternoon of educational activities and community contribution. The day began at the Neil Road Boys and Girls Club, where the youth participated in a community clean-up. Soon after, buses took the children to the Truckee Meadows club headquarters to have lunch.

The main attraction, however, was the "Reflection Walk," in which each of the 10 Reno- Sparks Boys and Girls Club sites contributed an art or educational piece, intended to shed new light on King's story.

The "walk," which was designed to resemble an art gallery, allowed the children to be led through displays by tour guides. To emphasize that image, each site location set up booths for their work and remaining art pieces were displayed on easels throughout the club's gymnasium.

"We have been talking to the kids about appropriate museum behavior," Stevens said. "We want to make this a memorable experience and we are trying to hit them from all angles with learning."

Rollan Melton Elementary School's booth featured "I Have a Dream" postcards on which children could write down their own dreams. The Sun Valley Elementary club location decided to reenact the picketing of the civil rights movement by allowing children to make their own signs.

"This is a good way to help the kids understand the civil rights movement," said program aid Chris Mahan. "Making it interactive will really help them learn, even though some of them are so young."

After the conclusion of the "Reflection Walk," older children were invited to view the 2007 film "The Great Debaters," to instill the lessons of the day and further emphasize the value of tolerance and hope.

"Martin Luther King Jr. Day is always a big event for us here at the Boys and Girls Club," said Mike Wurm, chief operating officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in a statement. "We really feel that it's important to educate the kids on the life of Dr. King and the impacts he's made on all of our lives. "

King had a dream that people of every race could come together as one. Now, as children of many races come together in his memory, his dream seems to be a reality.

"And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring ... we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men ... will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last," King said.

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