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Elementary and Middle School Kids Elevate Dr. King’s Spirit

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 2000-01-28

It was a Thursday luncheon that left many attendants at the end filled with the conviction that a good word well spoken by a well trained child can be more nourishing to the body and soul than fried chicken and salad.

The food was good, and the audience was very respectful; but the children were simply... little Martin Luther Kings. There were moments when one really felt as if the famous Civil Rights minister’s spirit was loitering around the hall, directing the whole show. But it was just young children of Zukeran Elementary School and Lester Middle School putting up a great performance that brought together talent, intelligence and wit.

It was last Thursday, January 20th, on the occasion of a Memorial Luncheon for Martin Luther King organized by the African American Association of Okinawa. Under the direction of Velva DeRizzio, a group of kids from both Zukeran Elementary and Lester Middle schools went to the Kadena NCO Club ballroom, which was filled to capacity with a predominantly adult audience, to revive good memories of the man whose dreams were shattered one day in Memphis, Tennessee.

The program started with Posting of Colors by older students from Kubasaki High School. The American National Anthem then followed, executed with a limpid and innocent voice by young Patricia Mosley, a student from the Lester Middle School. That was followed by an invocation, which led to the introduction of some of the VIP’s and honored guests by Kerrington Wright, another Lester student and charismatic boy who played MC all through the occasion with unquestionable mastery.

Then some of the students took in the spirit of Dr. King and related the story of his life as if they were living it themselves; a very original way of reading a great man’s biography. Patricia Mosley, Bryan Myers Jason Codes, Renee Thompson, Andre Walker, Fenisha Fervil (all of Lester), Jack Bergstrom, Ian DeRizzio and Justin Stokes of Zukeran, did the exercise, and they all passed with good marks, except for one student who forgot a point, probably overtaken by emotion. They let room in the middle of their act for young Christopher Palmer and Devon Stokes (Zukeran Elementary) to act out a sketch in which the latter played tough Rosa Parks refusing to let the “white man” take her seat by force on the bus. A skit well highly applauded by the audience.

However, the standing ovation of the day was reserved for another wonder student, Andrew Cooper from Lester Middle School, who played the role of Martin Luther King writing a letter to his fellow clergymen from Birmingham jail, after he was arrested and put in solitary confinement following protest marches in April 1963. Cooper read the letter and acted the prison scene so well that his voice seemed to have grown in age, actually moving several grownups in the hall to tears. There was another moment of emotion as the same children, following the cue of Bryan Myers (Lester), reproduced Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, letting freedom literally ring for real in the minds of all present.

Some of the students (Renee Thompson, Patricia Mosley, Jason Codes and Bryan Myers had earlier on read their own poems written for the occasion, consecrating the contribution of Martin Luther to their lives.

By the time the final benediction arrived, it was clear to all who participated in the event that Martin Luther King’s dream never died with the man. Many of the adults, who massively answered present at the occasion, expressed their amazement over the kids’ talents and their ability to put up such a great performance.

Velva DeRizzio, who coordinated the activities, told Japan Update that it had taken just a couple of rehearsals to get the children ready for that. “When I got the idea of doing this, I contacted the Principals of the schools so they could propose some students. Then I had a lot of help from very dedicated women. Adults wrote the scripts, but all the poems were written by the children themselves,” she said. DeRizzio is not yet sure if she would be able to come up with the same unique Martin Luther King luncheon with brainy kids next year; but - for sure - many people who attended this year will be looking up to the same opportunity next year.

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