Traveling exhibit tells African-American stories

2013-02-20T15:00:00Z 2013-09-18T10:05:01Z Traveling exhibit tells African-American storiesBy HOLLY HUDSON, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

JESUP, Iowa --- Anna Mae Weems was beside herself.

"This is the best turnout we've had in four years," she said.

Weems, a community leader and civil rights activist, was referring to an exhibition of "Dan Deery Presents: History with an African-American Emphasis," which was displayed in the Jesup Community School library Tuesday.

The entire exhibit, which consists of 196 panels created by Weems, 86, and her four-person staff, depicts the history of African-Americans. Panels feature information on prominent black Americans varying from politicians and business leaders to athletes and entertainers. Newspaper and magazine articles, a list of inventions credited to African-Americans, letters and photos help tell the story. About 70 of the panels were on display Tuesday.

Teachers took the opportunity to incorporate the display into their curriculum.

Jason Sullivan's government students carried printed questions with them as they surveyed the panels.

"We have to read each board and answer the questions," said senior Haley Fowlkes. "It's cool, I guess."

"I like it," said senior Megahn Roscovius.

Jim Gillespie's ninth-graders had to write a blog about what caught their interest the most from the display.

Preston Schaufenbuel was inspired by Deborah Berry, the state representative from the 22nd District who has served in the Iowa House of Representatives since 2003.

Matthew Hulin said he related to Simmie Knox, an artist known for painting the official White House portrait of former United States President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The exhibit has been traveling from school to school for four years and will go to Marshalltown next, then on to Sioux City.

Representatives from Dan Deery Motors, who funded the exhibit, also were on hand.

"I think it's good for the community to give awareness," said Brian Jensen, service manager. "It is exciting the kids are learning about African-Americans throughout history and their accomplishments."

Marcel Avant, lease and sales consultant, has traveled with the exhibit since it began.

"When I first got involved, I thought it was important to educate kids in small towns about the real world before they go off to college," he said. "Black folks are not just what you read in the newspapers or hear on the news. We all come from different walks of life."

Representatives from several Dan Deery dealerships, including Jensen, Jamie Thompson, Barney Niner and Jeff Zaputil, also donated books to the school's library

"Our students don't have the opportunity to realize the diversity living here in Jesup," said Gillespie, a social studies teacher. "Now they will get a chance to read about it in 'Black Like Me.'"

Jesup High School Principal Rod Chamberlin was excited to host the display.

"Jesup is not a real diverse community," he said. "This promotes black history and raises awareness. It is a great opportunity for our kids ... and I was impressed with how seriously they took it.

"As soon as I met Anna Mae, I wanted to do whatever I could do to make this happen," Chamberlin said. "I could sit all afternoon and listen to her stories."

And he wasn't the only one.

As students finished making their way through the exhibit, many gathered around Weems as she shared stories of how she brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Waterloo in 1959.

"What are you going to tell your children?" Weems asked the students. "When they go to Waterloo and stand next to a black man, or when they go away to college. This helps bridge the gap. We all must live together."

"Isn't this something?" Weems said as she watched the students pore over the boards. "This isn't about me. It's about the kids.

"This school has a spirit," she said. "The dream of Martin Luther King is a reality." she said.

Initially, students in grades eight through 12 were going to view the exhibit, Chamberlin said.

"But we've been getting calls from the elementary teachers saying they wanted their kids to see it, too."

The exhibit was made available for those students after school.

"I overheard one student say 'Boy, I've learned a lot today,'" Chamberlin said. "That's what it's all about."

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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