Ethnic Heritage Lives Anew Oral Tradition Passes Stories to New Generation

Article excerpt

JACKSONVILLE BEACH -- "The days and nights turned into" -- and

the storyteller paused, waiting for the Beaches Episcopal School

students to finish the line.

"Weeks!" they answered in unison.

While stomping her sandaled feet, swinging her arms to Zulu

songs and acting out each character in an African story, Valerie

Tutson recently helped the children celebrate Black History

Month and learn what it represents.

After telling a Liberian folk tale, Tutson used its moral to

show the significance of this month.

"No one is ever dead unless he or she is forgotten," Tutson

explained. "In celebration of Black History Month, we are

telling the stories of people who may not be living with us."

What spurred the birth of Black History Month more than a

decade ago was the chance to tell stories of African-Americans

who might not have been recognized during their lifetime. Some

area schools have renamed it Brotherhood Month to host

multi-cultural events, and many have adopted teaching diversity

year round.

Tutson, a professional storyteller from Providence, R.I., has

been teaching black history through the arts year round for

years.

"I tell these stories all 12 months, not just the 28 days of

Black History Month," Tutson said.

Exposing children to different cultures throughout the year

helps build an understanding among the students and teaches them

what to expect in the future, according to educators in Beaches

elementaries.

"I think it heightens the students' sensitivity toward others,"

said fifth-grade teacher Terrye Mosley at Alimacani Elementary

School. "We no longer live in an insular environment. They have

to live in a world where they have to be with others who are not

like them."

"We are a diverse population," said Mike Parrish, principal at

Ocean Palms Elementary. "Our strength is our diversity."

Recipes ranging from Serbian cookies to Chinese prawn crackers

decorate the walls at Alimacani, which prepares students for a

Brotherhood feast, for which they bring in international dishes

and dress like natives of various countries.

Mosley also put together an AfricanAmerican fact sheet students

for which students must research the answers. Questions include:

"Who was the first person to perform a successful heart

operation?" (Answer: Charles Drew, an African-American surgeon.)

Mosley said the school works to infuse multi-cultural events

throughout the year, including visits from authors, storytellers

and even a lecturer showing American Indian dances.

Among the eight-week enrichment labs Jacksonville Beach

Elementary offers fourth and fifth graders are an AfroAmerican

history course, multi-cultural music, multi-cultural arts and

crafts and holidays around the world. …

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