Friday, March 7, 2014

Elie Weisel and the Little Rock Nine: Unbelievable but True

The first time I ever taught Night by Elie Wiesel, as I scrambled for resources to do this memoir justice, I stumbled upon wonderful materials that were written by one Dr Chris Frost. Mr. Google told me he was a professor at a nearby university. I sent him an email asking if he'd mind if some precocious 8th graders used his materials as we studied the book. He said we could--and offered to come lecture the students--for free.

I was floored by the generous gift of his time (and that he was unafraid of 8th graders, as many adults seem to be). As it turned out, he was one of just 18 students to sit under Wiesel at NYU the first time Weisel taught his own book. Can you even believe it???

His presentation gave our students rare insight into Night and afforded us an opportunity to ask loads of questions. At the end, we presented him with three carnations--a white one for Elie and those who endured the Holocaust, a red one for those who, like Dr. Frost, were teaching truth, and a pink one to represent the students and their promise--he was visibly moved. He said, "I'll have to tell Elie about this today." Can you even believe it???

When asked what courses he was teaching next, he said he was teaching a summer course comparing C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Oxford, England. It so happened that I was going to Oxford to spend a week at the C. S. Lewis conference. "We'll have to meet up," he said. "I'd love to crash a class," I said. Can you even believe it???

It turned out the last full day the students and he would be in Oxford was my first day at the event so I couldn't sit in on his lecture. But then I got my agenda for the conference and that first evening Lamb's Players Theater was presenting "Freud's Last Session," a play about....ohmigosh, an imagined meeting of Freud and Lewis. He was able to get permission to see it with his students. Can you even believe it???

So this year is the first year I am teaching Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in 1957. A parent of one of my kiddos forwarded a flyer informing us that Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest of the Nine, was to speak that very week at a local community college. And after a riveting evening of insights and stories and questions answered, I was in line to buy her book when one of my students came over to present me with a copy as a gift!! Can you even believe it???

Mrs. LaNier signed our books and agreed to a photo with us. I don't ordinarily rub shoulders with historical figures...and I want to have proof that it really happened. Because I can hardly believe it.

Here is a picture with two world changers--one of the Little Rock Nine who courageously stood up for justice and my student MRC., an incredible girl who is so gifted I can't believe I get to teach her and I can't wait to see how she impacts our future.

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