PEYTON, Colo. – “The hatred I see today bothers me – it bothers a lot of people,” said James Wade, while unveiling a school project Sept. 11.
Wade, 17, a 12th grader known for his creativity at Patriot Learning Center in Peyton, Colo., had led the school’s ninth through 12th grade social studies students’ three-day civil rights project that combined ideas, materials and artworks.
During the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, they unveiled to their school a pictorial tribute to the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Hung in a hallway, a large, bell-shaped pressboard contains the collage of student works, each representing excerpts from King’s speech. A cutout of the word “freedom” is situated as the bell’s clapper.
Their social studies teacher, Susie McPherson, said the schoolwide project merged lessons in U.S. history, world history, geography and government. She pointed to parallels between King’s concepts and 9/11 reactions.
“If you look at all the videos of 9/11, every color helps every color,” said McPherson, addressing her classroom. “And when hatred reached American Muslims, we realized, again, we don’t have time to hate anymore. There is no room for hate in our country.”
Patriot Learning Center in Falcon School District 49, covering northeast Colorado Springs and unincorporated portions of El Paso County, offers an alternative for at-risk students, youth who statistically fail academically in traditional learning environments.
Wade, who’s also leading his classmates in academic performance, says he discovered the drive to do well in school. Now, nearing the end of high school, he’s learning to apply his heightened motivation to social activism.
“I’ve seen a lot of racial judgments,” said Wade, explaining that his family includes marriages of mixed skin colors. “The N-word, racial words, really irritates me. We’re an American race, not individual races. … We all bleed red.”
He said Patriot Learning Center is an example of unity that’s needed at all levels of society, regardless of race or religion, or other physical or ideological differences.
“Here, you see people who are so comfortable with the people around them,” said Wade, describing the alternative learning center. “It’s like a family, not a school. And family helps each other out. … There’s no hatred; it’s just positive energy.”
McPherson hopes to see other District 49 schools use her students’ project, making it a traveling teaching tool – a visual way to explore King’s descriptive speech.
“During segregation, we were hurt from the inside out – during 9/11, we were hurt from the outside in,” said McPherson. “But after 9/11, it was ‘you don’t mess with Americans,’ not just white Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans.
“Fear makes us do stupid things. But we’ve learned from Martin Luther King Jr. what hatred can do, all the things that can happen. He taught us not to hate. … You can’t fight and heal at the same time.”
As Wade finished sharing his thoughts about the project with his classmates, he quoted Kendrick Lamar, an American hip-hop recording artist from Compton, Calif.
“Even a small lighter can burn a bridge,” he said.