A Day at the Bessie Smith
In early February I had the opportunity to take our youngest students to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga. The kids all filed out of the Bethlehem Center’s gym like little ducklings and sat in the van with their heads on a swivel.
As we were driving down Market Street, a boy sitting next to me pointed up at Lookout Mountain and said “One day, I’m gonna go up there!” “What? You’ve never been up there?” I asked. It had never occurred to me that his world could be so small, yet most of these kids rarely leave Alton Park.
Preparing to go into the Bessie, two boys argued over who could hold my hand. Luckily I have two hands, so it worked out well. When we stepped in, Ms. Dionne Jennings introduced herself to the kids as the Executive Director and shook each one’s hand to learn their name.
We started off with a special exhibit for Black History Month about the life and impact of Martin Luther King Jr. Afterwards, the kids were given free reign to explore. The children roamed the room in packs, latching onto one item before drifting to another piece.
Ms. Jennings and Ms. Rachel, the Beth’s Education Coordinator, could barely keep up with the rapid-fire questions. “Who is that?” “What’re they doing?” “Look there’s Martin Luther King!” “Is that his family?”
The kids recognized other iconic leaders including Rosa Parks. I began to notice that only a few of the kids understood the importance of these historic figures. It was wonderful to watch them hear the story of the Civil Rights March on Washington and to get a better understanding of the context behind Martin Luther King’s historic speech “I Have A Dream.”
As we moved through the rest of the museum, we stopped by Reggie White’s jersey, allowing the kids to hear more about his accomplishments. Later, on the way back to the Beth, I pointed out the window and said to the boy next to me, “Look there’s Howard.” I was delighted to hear him gleefully respond, “That’s where Reggie White’s from! I got to see his jersey!”
Our trip to the Bessie Smith Center was a success. At the end there was even time for a little fun. As we were leaving, the kids got to shake out their antsiness with what I like to call “Freestyle Tag.”
The Bethlehem Center seeks to encourage our children to be leaders in their community and to take pride in their heritage. Learning about the past can inspire the future! It’s important to us to provide our students with field trips like this that will open their world to possibilities. If you would like to be a part of these field trips by volunteering or donating please call Rachel DeVore at 423 266-1384 ext. 4.
Aubrianna Pennington is the Development and Projects assistant at the Beth. She graduated from Covenant College with an English Literature degree. She enjoys Zumba, reading, appreciates sitcoms, and is a sunshine enthusiast.