By Vincent Butler
St. Mark AME Church
Christlyn Frederick-Stanley, principal of Keefe Avenue School, was looking for help in putting together a Black History Month program. She discovered that help was just four-tenths of a mile away.
Sixteen members of St. Mark AME Church spent the morning of February 14 reading to approximately 130 students at the school, which enrolls youngsters from kindergarten through eighth grade. For the past year, several members of St. Mark AME Church in Milwaukee have spent time helping students improve their reading comprehension.
Ann Beamon and Helen Harris have been the coordinators of the reading program.
“Mrs. Beamon organized for the volunteers to be here and she asked what we were doing for Black History Month,” said Frederick- Stanley, who is a member of the church. “We were going to see a play, but we weren’t doing anything in the school per se. Mrs. Beamon and Mrs. Harris got together and decided that we should have something with the tutors emphasizing black history.”
Some of the books included the life of civil rights icon and current U.S. Congressman John Lewis; the bravery of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas; and the music of Louis Armstrong. The Black History Month program was part of an ongoing relationship between the church and the school.
“St. Mark AME Church has adopted Keefe Avenue School, and the Geraldine Bradford Missionary Society in particular has started a tutoring program because we want to have an impact on the school and the children,” Harris said. “We want the children to know they are important.”
While the goal of the St. Mark program is to help improve student reading skills, it is equally important to tell the youngsters that they have the ability to make a difference in their lives. In the eighth grade class, taught by Stanley Levells, it was stressed how many young people were involved in the civil rights movement. Lewis was 23-years-old when he was one of the central figures in the “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” that was held on August 28, 1963. And it was high school students who led the way when schools were integrated in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Those stories are mightily important, Harris said.
“They need to read, they need to know how to read and learn about the world around them and they need to know about their history,” Harris said. “If they know about the history of our people and the struggles we have come through and the achievement we have made in spite of it, we feel that we can inspire our children.”
For Frederick-Stanley, the date of the reading had a special meaning. February 14 is the birth date of Richard Allen, who is the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Keefe Avenue School principal said she is grateful that the program exists.
“To have a guest come in and read is fascinating for the children,” Frederick-Stanley said. “To have someone to come in and take their time with you, I think they really appreciated that.”
For more information, contact Vincent Butler, firstname.lastname@example.org.