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Published on May 18, 2018
It was a moment that changed America. Fifty-five years ago this month, thousands of African-American children walked out of school and began a peaceful march in Birmingham, Ala., to protest segregation. They were met with attack dogs and water hoses. Janice Kelsey was 16 at the time and was arrested for participating in what became known as the Children’s Crusade. This year, she told her story to a group of visiting 5th and 6th graders from Polaris Charter Academy in Chicago, Ill. The students had traveled more than 600 miles to hear first-hand accounts from civil rights activists like Kelsey who were on the front lines of history. “Nobody can tell a story better than the person who experienced it,” said 5th grader Amari. The real-life lesson is in keeping with the school’s philosophy, which Polaris educator Francesca Peck said stresses “the power of immersion, and bringing history to life for our students.” Peck said the two-day visit to Birmingham was not a “field trip,” but was “field work,” with students acting as their own historians. For many of the students, the impact was powerful. As Amari put it, “This generation, they will have to decide whether they’re going to make a story like that generation did.”