Eleven year-old Duwaun Cowen came face-to-face with history last Thursday morning at the Delta Arts Center.
Duwaun and a handful of his Moore Elementary School fifth grade classmates were selected to be a part of Rev. Jeannette Thomas-Shegog’s reenactment of the life of Harriet Tubman.
Duwaun portrayed one of the hundreds of slaves that the iconic Tubman led to freedom. He took on the role whole-heartedly, even imagining what became of his character after arriving in the North.
“It was really cool … It felt like I was actually being with Harriet Tubman,” he said, giving a nod to the veteran storyteller’s portrayal.
The Center hosted Moore students for three days straight last week, inviting them to explore its “Samplers and Symmetry IV: Pieces by Area African American Quilters” exhibit and even try their own hand at creating quilting squares in patterns that some believe were Underground Railroad codes.
“These quilts are one of our most popular programs,” Dianne Caesar, who up until this week was Delta Arts Center’s executive director, said of “Samples,” which the Center is presenting for the fourth year through March 16. “We have just found that they like the stories. I like to say we celebrate black history all year, but it’s a way of doing something with the kids.”
Brandon Johnson, the Center’s newly-appointed program developer, said theproject was a fun and easy way to get the students acclimated with the Delta Arts Center.“I hope that they have a better understanding of what goes on in an art gallery,” remarked the North Carolina A&T State University alumnus. “I want them to want to come back, and I’m just glad that they got a chance to experience it.”
The program impressed Moore teacher Renee Hennings.
“I thought it was really interactive,” she related. “It kept the kids’ attention, and it had elements of history without the ‘boring book stuff.’ I enjoyed the fact that the kids got to get up and compare what they learned … to the actual quilts on the walls.”
Hennings’ students are currently conducting research for their Black History Month projects, and will be studying history up to the Civil War era this year, both of which tied in nicely with the field trip, said the East Bend native.
“Kids this age can be tough to engage because it’s such a digital world,” said Hemmings, who has been teaching for five years. “This brings that part of history to life … there’s nothing like having someone come in and bring you in to get that authentic experience.”
Hemmings’ student, Isis Dalton, also participated in the Thomas-Shegog’s portrayal.
“It was really fun,” said Isis, who added that her grandmother taught her how to quilt. “I love to make quilts and I loved the little skit that we had. It was fun how it felt like she was really there telling about her life. It was, like, a good experience to actually come here.”
Thomas-Shegog, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, said she hoped the students received the message behind Tubman’s courageous story.
“I want the children to understand that there was someone who made a difference. No matter who you are or what you do, you can make a difference in the world today,” said the grandmother of two, who recently retired after 20 years in the pulpit. “I want them to understand that there are people who did something and everybody can do something.”
Mami Wata Cultural Arts Collective will share quilting stories and lead an interactive cultural activity for children and youth of all ages on Thursday, Feb. 21 at 4 p.m. and Saturday, March 2 at 11 a.m. at the Delta Arts Center, 2611 New Walkertown Road.
For more information, visit deltaartscenter.org or call 336-722-2625.