As her students filed into the Vola Lawson Lobby at City Hall, Laura Wollman was handing out flowers. The veteran art teacher — who has been working in the system for 29 years, the last two at Ramsay Elementary School — wanted to make sure her students received the proper recognition for posters honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
“We talked about the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and then I asked the kids what they thought that meant,” she said. “They said that they felt everybody should get along.”
Wollman said that concepts of equality and nonviolence come naturally to children, and the principals embodied by King’s civil-rights advocacy were easily understood in the classroom. The annual poster contest, sponsored by the Alexandria Society for the Preservation of Black Heritage, was an opportunity for the city’s public-school students to translate King’s dream of a merit-based society into expressive artwork.
“When King was alive, blacks and white had to sit at opposite ends of the bus,” said Mia Pixley, 9, who is in the fourth grade at John Adams Elementary School. “That’s why I drew Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat.”
Vice Mayor Del Pepper addressed students, parents and teachers during the reception, expressing her delight at the energy behind keeping King’s dream alive in Alexandria.
“These posters are truly outstanding,” Pepper said. “I remember when I first heard about the assassination. I was a student then, and I just couldn’t believe it.”
THE POSTER CONTEST was judged by a committee from the Society for the Preservation of Black Heritage, which has sponsored the contest for the past 16 years. Twelve schools sent submissions, and 24 students received awards. All of the winning posters will be on display at City Hall through March.
“Thank you for taking a day on instead of taking a day off,” said Marc Funn, chairman of the society. “It’s important that children learn about their own history and the history of others.”
Lindsey Vick gave the keynote address, asking the students to reflect on the meaning behind their posters. Vick, who is the daughter of Councilwoman Joyce Woodson and Alexandria NAACP President S. Howard Woodson, challenged students to think about King’s legacy.
“Are we keeping the dream alive?” she asked, adding that King’s legacy transcends race relations. “He didn’t argue for black rights, he argued for civil rights.”
She opened the floor to students, who spoke about the importance of equality. Her speech was followed by the presentation of awards, several musical selections and a benediction. After the speeches and awards, parents and students feasted on a spread of food donated by Whole Foods Market.
“This was amazing,” said Hillary Aguilar, 6, a first-grade student at Ramsay Elementary School. “I really enjoyed making my poster.”