Center of Education Reform: Why America?

Earlier this month, I had the honor of performing for the Center For Education Reform at the George Washington University Jack Morton Auditorium. TCFER is a foundation based in Washington DC whose mission is to "expand educational opportunities" for students all over the nation. The program in which I participated in was called "Why America". This program is an interactive field trip in which students and teachers use resources in and around the Nation's Capital and is broken down into 5 categories 
  • The Constitution & Its Origins
  •  Hamilton's Vision
  •  The Father Of Our Country & Presidency
  •  Women Abolition & Suffrage Movements In The President's Neighborhood 
  •  Military Memorial & Flag Days
"The Father of Our Country & Presidency", spotlights the executive branch of government and why Congress made the imperative decision to elect George Washington as 1st President; why was he the perfect candidate to lead the new nation? But wait! It doesn't stop there, there's more! The program also circumnavigated around important topics such as Washington's character and rules of civility, Martha Washington's major contributions to the Presidency as the First Lady of the United States (During his time in office, she was called both "Lady Washington" or the "President's Consort"), and how the Presidency and the drastic evolution of politics affected the 7 enslaved peoples that lived in the President's House. 

George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium

Mic check started promptly at 9am. I met with Lee Ann Rose of Shades Of Our Past, and Brian Hilton who portrays the Official GW of Alexandria, Virginia. After going over the program's itinerary and safety precautions, we were ready to go. I will note that we were all well aware of our statute of limitations due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and were vigilant in keeping each other safe (the 6'' distance rule had not been put in place at the time, but we still looked out for one another). 

More than 160 students and chaperones (4th-7th grade) 

I think my most memorable moment of this whole program, was the student's reaction upon hearing that Ona Judge was to be given away as a wedding gift to Eliza Custis-Law (Martha Washington's granddaughter). To witness this decision being made right in front of them, I swear, you could hear a pin drop in the whole auditorium. The abrupt silence made me realize that this was a deep subject for them to process and were more than likely wondering what "Ona" must be feeling or thinking at that very as she knew it altered by Lady Washington's decision. I cried out angrily, "Eliza! I thought I was going to be given to Nelly!" and quickly stormed off the stage.

As I was backstage preparing to give my monologue, I could only imagine what the students and teachers were thinking now; we tore off the cap of US history and exposed the grim revelation of slavery: that many enslaved peoples during the 18th-19th centuries were impacted drastically with the threat of being sold to solve financial insecurities, increase financial gains, or to be bequeathed to a member of the master's family (like you would give a hand-me-down to a relative). This was solely based on the decision of the owner. While it is documented that Washington himself did not split families apart when he sold them at auction, it did happen often throughout the colonies; you would believe that it was a very traumatic experience for those affected. After the Dred Scott Decision during the early 1860's, African-Americans (free and enslaved) were labeled as only ⅗ of a person. During Ona's time, that idea did not exist and while many enslaved like her decided to take their emancipation into their own hands, there were other slaves that could not, for they'd risk harsh repercussions or death. As the students were faced to process that harsh reality during the intermission, it was clear that it was time to give answers. . . 
When I returned to the stage and performed my monologue, and later declared my freedom, the children let out a shout and gave round of applause that actually surprised me (mind you, this was my first time performing in front of a school, and I had never had this reaction happen to me before!) 

Overall the program went off without any real difficulty. While the students were very enthusiastic about the field trip (honestly, it was hard to get them to settle down at times), but many of them were well engaged with the messages we were conveying and had some good questions to ask Brian, Lee Ann and myself during the Q&A segment at the end. I cannot wait to see what is next for this special program and I hope that the Center For Education Reform continues with new ideas to include in the following year.


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