By Lauren Lavelle
Local children, students and faculty were given an inside look at the lives of influential black Americans throughout history at Rider’s Black History Month Living Museum on Feb. 21.
Presented by the Office of Service Learning and Rider’s chapter of Black Men Unified, student volunteers worked to bring iconic figures in black history to life by focusing on their hardships and accomplishments then delivering them to the audience in character.
Before opening the interactive museum to the Rider community, local children from Eggert’s Crossing Village Every Child Valued tutoring center and El Centro of Catholic Charities in Trenton were invited to take a tour of the museum and experience the actors firsthand.
Guided by Rider student volunteers, the children were provided with several resources to help them better understand the overall meaning of the program.
“A booklet was put together for the students so the kids can take notes on the presentations,” said Assistant Director for Service Learning Joan Liptrot. “Then the Rider student volunteers coached them through the note-taking and made sure they knew what was important.”
Matt Williams, ’14, a grad student studying clinical counseling and the urban education director, coordinated the living museum with the goal of enriching young students.
“My job is to bridge the education that we do in after school programs with what Rider Bonners and AmeriCorps bring to the table with their own majors,” said Williams. “One of the things we work on is college access. We say, ‘You too can be here.’ It is obtainable. It is real.”
Along with a partial college experience, the students were provided with a wealth of information pertaining to Black History Month and important issues in both today and yesterday’s society.
Sophomore arts administration major Alexis Green, who portrayed Michelle Obama, discussed the former first lady’s early life as well as her love for education and the various programs she put in place.
“I talked about Michelle Obama’s parents instilling the values of education, knowledge and hard work, and told the kids they should also value their education and work hard,” said Green. “I really focused in on what she did as far as her own career and movements. I told the kids, ‘Hey, I did this even when people doubted me so if anyone ever doubts you, you have to believe in yourself and say, “Yes, I can” despite what other people think.’”
Other interactive characters, such as Muhammad Ali, played by sophomore behavioral science major Zaire Cone, stressed the need to learn about black history.
“I specifically wanted to play Muhammad Ali because he passed away recently and I wanted to honor his name, and this was the perfect way to do it,” said Cone. “Any chance to learn about people’s history is important, especially during Black History Month.”
The student volunteers also felt the museum benefitted the Rider community as a whole by providing children with new, interesting opportunities and informing students of black Americans their history classes may have not touched upon before.
“I think this is important for Rider to do because it engages with the community around Rider and creates interest in Rider,” said Green. “These kids now know what a university looks like and it’s good to impact and engage them in activities while exposing them to a college.”