With tales of barking mice, crying crocodiles and pine needles, storytellers helped distill the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy to the tiniest listeners on Saturday.
As part of a weekend-long celebration of King’s life, Cary town officials invited professional storytellers to help children understand the important — and sometimes weighty — aspects of the civil rights activist’s struggle for equality among the races in the United States. Dreamfest is a town-sponsored event that spans three days and aims to engage young and old in discussions and reflections on civil rights in America.
“With the children, we wanted to focus on the positives of what King put forward for this county. And in a way they could understand,” said Kris Carmichael, director of Cary’s Page-Walker Arts and History Center and one of the organizers of the event.
On Saturday morning, a dozen children and their parents giggled while listening to Donna Washington tell the story of how a momma mouse scared off a scary cat by barking like a dog. Washington, a professional storyteller from Durham, began the story by asking the children what gives them power. While 9-year-old Ronan Jewett suggested mac-n-cheese, he eventually agreed that knowledge also gives him power.
“What you know can’t be taken from you,” Washington told the children. She explained how her parents had to attend separate schools from white children in their town and had to study from books discarded by students at the white schools.
Washington’s story illustrated how the mouse’s understanding of what might frighten a cat saved her family from attack. Though the story held an important message, the children were mesmerized by Washington’s animal voices and funny descriptions of the mice family and the fat cat.
These stories help us understand where we were, where we are, and most importantly, where we can be.
Debbie Jewett, Ronan’s mother, said Washington’s story had the power to teach her son a lesson that a lecture from her couldn’t quite convey.
Jewett said she found herself reflecting more on King’s birthday as the nation’s first black president ended his tenure. Jewett, of Morrisville, said she was glued to the news this week and wondered how she would talk to her son about the significance of Obama’s service as president.
She was grateful that Cary found a way to help parents like her teach her son about civil rights.
“These stories help us understand where we were, where we are, and most importantly, where we can be,” Jewett said.
Locke: 919-829-8927 or @MandyLockeNews
Dreamfest will continue through Monday. An open-mike poetry event will take place Saturday night, and a screening of a documentary on the life of poet Maya Angelou will be Sunday. Service events are planned for Monday.
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