By Robert Leitner
very American student may remember sitting crossed-legged on a thin carpet, listening to an elementary school teacher discuss Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Too often, little information is retained.
Now, Rider is aiming to change this pattern. By getting kids involved in activities centered around King’s values, all while being with friends and having fun, children can pass on the lessons learned about the man who had a dream.
“Black History Month is a time to learn about important people who impacted our country,” said Joan Liptrot, the assistant director of campus life for service learning, while speaking to the 26 children of the Boys and Girls Club of Trenton at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Feb. 12.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did a lot of important things for our country,” Liptrot said. “He died for our civil rights, wanted freedom for everybody, wanted people of all backgrounds to live together and be friends and wanted everyone to be equal.”
Stations were set up around the Cavalla Room, each designed to teach the children a value that King knew was important.
One value that was included in the stations was faith. King set bold goals that he believed in, even though he wasn’t sure how to begin or how it would end. As he said when commemorating the centennial of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 12, 1962, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
To bring this value to life, the children participated in an “airport activity” intended to build faith and trust between the children. One person would be blindfolded, and a partner would lead him or her around the room without bumping into others.
Janae, 9, enjoyed this activity the most.
“I liked the airport activity because it was fun, and you had to trust the person who was leading you,” she said.
Education, another value emphasized at the event, played a role in King’s success and allowed him to write powerful speeches.
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically,” said King. “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”
According to Juliann Brand, a junior secondary education major, it is important to use this value to motivate the children to focus on their school work.
“His quote reminds me of how important it is to inspire students to want to keep doing things like reading and staying in school,” said Brand.
Junior psychology major Shaiann Grey shared this view.
“Educating them in a way that is creative [is important],” Grey said. “I like to see them being inspired by the world around them.”
Other values featured at the stations were equality, nonviolence, love, leadership, selflessness and hope.
Senior marketing major Pauline Ybanez was happy to see the children smiling and engaged.
“They’re in these activities, and we’re making them smile,” Ybanez said. “It brightens up their day, and maybe their day wasn’t even that great. So just seeing them smile a little bit here is satisfaction for me.”
The Boys and Girls Club of Trenton takes many trips to Rider University, Delicia Mayer, an employee at the club, explained.
“We came one time for Halloween, there was a circus one year, and now Black History Month,” Mayer said. “The kids look forward to this, especially the younger ones.”
After everyone had a chance to participate in every station, it was time for snacks, and then reflection.
Mya, 8, had thought about the values that were brought to her attention at the event.
“I learned that you should help people all the time, no matter if they’re white or black because we’re all the same,” she said. “We are all human beings.”