Mar. 1, 2021 -- History is all around us. That’s the message that district parent Dr. Derrick Williams wanted to drive home for the elementary students at Oxford and Roxboro Elementary Schools this month.
Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Williams describes learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was young and how the idea of such an important man having lived right in the same place where he was living had a powerful impact on him. “That stuck with me for the rest of my life. It’s one reason I’m constantly learning myself.”
The professor of Communications Studies at Tri-C and father to two Rox El students, Dr. Williams created a dynamic video presentation titled “Mapping Black History in Cleveland: 20 People in 21 Minutes.” Accompanied by 1st grader Ella and 5th grader Meldrrick, the Williams family used photographs, maps and plenty of laughter to introduce students to 20 famous African Americans who have some connection to Cleveland.
Helping students see that these very people may have walked the same streets they walk every day, Dr. Williams introduced musician Bobby Womack, inventor George Peake, Olympian Jesse Owens, actress Ruby Dee, writer Langston Hughes, baseball legend LeRoy Satchel Page, physicist Arthur B. Walker, Jr., actresses Halle Berry and her hero Dorothy Dandridge, and superhero Black Lightning/Black Vulcan.
While managing to be upbeat and engaging, he didn't shy away from the tough topics of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation, even holding up vocabulary words for students with words like abolition, integration, and discrimination. He also managed to throw in some lessons about the Father of Black History Carter G. Woodson and famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, whose image adorned his t-shirt.
Dr. Williams challenged the students to search the locations associated with some of these famous people as they travel around the city: Karamu Theater where Ruby Dee performed or the many streets, schools and public spaces named for famous Black Clevelanders. He also encouraged them to visit Lakeview Cemetery when the weather improves to see how many might be buried within its famed walls.
Machelle Moultrie, a 4th grade teacher at Oxford who’s had Dr. Williams present to her class for the past four years, was as impressed as always. “Every time he has delivered an engaging and informative experience for the students and teachers present. The students loved ‘20 People in 21 Minutes;’ they especially enjoyed Mr. Williams' energy and humor!”