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Let freedom ring at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School

Something I’ve observed while working in Watts is that people are really proud of who they are, whether that is African-American or Latino. If you ask students to think about a historical figure, they generally say Martin Luther King (one of our after-school challenges is to write about a historical figure). Why? Students in this community are taught at an early age about the civil rights movement and the work Martin Luther King did, which is so central to the pride African-Americans have in Watts and all over the United States today.

On Friday, at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School, City Year reenacted the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King. The City Year team at Florence Griffith Joyner (FloJo) put together the event and the rest of the South Los Angeles school teams got to participate. The FloJo team assigned the two middle school teams, Markham (my team) and Gompers, to work directly with the elementary students for a refreshing change of pace.

I was placed in a first grade classroom to teach students the chant they would be chanting during the march. The kids listened, participated, said thank you, smiled at me and hugged me. Was the real life? I’m used to students not listening, doing whatever they want, not doing work, not participating, yelling, cussing each other out, and so the list goes on. Long story short, the students were absolutely adorable and it was so much fun to work with them.

I taught them this chant: hey hey, ho ho, the violence has got to go. The students made their own picket signs to carry that said, “equality for all”, “we don’t want to sit in the back of the bus”, and “peace”.


I asked them what they could do to create peace in Watts. They said they could follow laws, treat others fairly and treat others the way they want to be treated. We wrote these on strips of paper that City Year later assembled into a paper chain that represented every classroom at FloJo.



Then, the students marched and chanted around the blacktop twice with the rest of the school. They stopped at the Washington Monument that was recreated by the FloJo team.


The students listened to two student speakers; one student introduced Martin Luther King and another student (“little Martin Luther King) recited parts of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This little 5th grader spoke so well! I was standing next to his father and I could tell how proud he was of his son.

All in all, this event was awesome and taught the students a valuable lesson. Good job FloJo!

But, there’s still one harsh, harsh reality: these cute little angels will all be Markham Middle School students someday. Students, hold onto your innocence. Always promote peace.

Here’s video of my teammate Jeanny chanting with her little ones:

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