Rockwood South Middle
is in its fifth-plus year of convening a group for students interested in becoming leaders in social justice. Students apply for admission to the group because they want to make a difference in their school and, once accepted, they meet with their peers once a month.
This year for Black History Month, the group participated in the National Council of Teachers of English’s African-American Read-In. The group’s 17 members researched notable African-American historical figures and presented to English language arts classes at Rockwood South over the first half of the month of February.
“We learned about people who maybe aren’t as famous as some others,” said Batula, an eighth-grader who presented on Cathay Williams, who became first black woman to enlist in the Army by posing as a man and joining during the Civil War.
The students became experts on abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, authors such as Patricia C. McKissack and Walter Dean Myers, trailblazing politicians such as Shirley Chisholm and civil rights pioneers such as Claudette Colvin, who was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus at the age of 15 in 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks’ more recognized act of civil disobedience.
“I learned it doesn’t matter where you came from. It matters who you choose to be,” said Hailey, an eighth-grader who researched Kamaru Usman, the first African-born mixed martial arts champion.
For its February meeting, the group welcomed a representative from the Missouri History Museum to speak about the conditions under which slaves lived. She also acted out the part of St. Louis freedom fighter Mary Meachum, who helped slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.
Rockwood South language arts teacher Laura Frisch, counselor Jessica Kempa and social worker Ashley O’Daniel sponsor the group. Frisch said she hopes the conversations that the meetings generate help students embrace the diversity of their school and better understand their own identities.
“You get to meet new people and see what everyone’s opinion is compared to yours, to see what you have in common,” said Taylor, an eighth-grader.