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By Denise Gary
Photographs © Denise Gary
Kids Need to Read introduced the eighth grade students of ASU Preparatory Academy to Aaronetta Edmonds, who shared the experiences of her grandparents during their time as slaves.
Aaronetta’s husband, Wes Edmonds, also contributed to the program.
The presentation supported the eighth grade English language arts studies of Up From Slavery: An Autobiography, by Booker T. Washington.
Class sets of the book were provided by Kids Need to Read as part of the Reading Revolution program, designed to increase literacy scores and graduation rates among middle school students. Earlier in the year, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to join the eighth grade classes during their studies of this book. Afterward, I felt they would benefit from a more personal perspective of the challenges slaves experienced as they transitioned to freedom.
Aaronetta exuded quiet dignity as she recounted the struggles her grandparents endured as they persevered in the face of oppression, while never passing down bitterness or hatred to their progeny.
Aaronetta also shared the shock and indignation she felt upon her first encounters with Jim Crow laws while on a visit to the south.
Students were spell-bound by the couple’s recollections.
Aaronetta shared family documents and pictures from the era.
Aaronetta’s Grandparents and their Children
Students enjoyed question and answer sessions, with one student asking the Edmonds if they would serve as godparents to the students.
The students also enjoyed asking Wes for his thoughts, especially regarding racism today.
Seventh grade students were brought in to enjoy the final presentation of the day.
To close the civil rights studies, eighth grade English teacher Andrea Enger invited me and the Edmonds to join the students at a performance of the musical Memphis at the ASU Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, Arizona. The event was sponsored by Kaleidoscope through Arizona State University.
It was a real treat to enjoy this engrossing story based on the experiences of the first white DJ to play black music in Tennessee. After the performance—one of the best musicals I have experienced—we were all treated to a delicious dinner on the portico, with a cast member joining each table for the meal. The meal was followed by a question and answer session with the cast members. It was an incredible opportunity not only for the students but for me and the Edmonds, as well.
It has been a true honor working with Andrea Enger on the Reading Revolution program the past two years. She has been the backbone of the program, welcoming me to her classroom and allowing Kids Need to Read to be a part of the education experience. I cannot overstate what an inspiring teacher she is—always a consummate educator.
Reading Revolution Program Partners
Arizona State University
ASU Preparatory Academy
Canyon State Academy
Reading Revolution Funding Partners
American Woodmark Foundation
Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation
Avnet Contributions Council
Employees Community Fund of Boeing Arizona
John F. Long Foundation
National Home Library Foundation
Otto & Edna Neely Foundation
Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund
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