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200 Adult Literacy Students See 'Selma'

Selma poster in the theaterFebruary is Black History Month, and what better way to celebrate it this year than to bring history to life (well, almost), through a screening of the movie Selma!

Because of the generosity of an Aguilar volunteer tutor,  almost 200 Harlem, Aguilar and St. Agnes students, staff and volunteers had the opportunity to see "Selma" on Wednesday and Thursday, February 11 and 12 at the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem.

The film chronicles the 3-month period in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The  march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement. Director Ava DuVernay's Selma tells the story of how Dr. King and his many supporters prompted change that forever altered history.

Waiting in the Lobby of the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem

Many of the students in the audience were not even alive during those years, but most said they had learned at least a little in their schools in many different countries around the world. Others, born here, probably also learned the basics in elementary and high schools, but they, too, were pretty fuzzy about even the most basic facts. 

In some post-film discussions, we heard the following comments:

Barbara:  "I liked the movie, because it made me feel emotional about the way Dr. King became strong.  Early on, he wanted to give up, but John Lewis spoke to him and and he changed his mind.  I learned about the way Dr. King convinced people to fight for their rights, no matter who they were."

Jason:  "The film brought the past into the present, and I learned how we got the right to vote."

Ousman: "My favorite part was when the white supporters joined in the final march across the bridge."

Dave mentioned how much he learned about the different philosophies of Dr. King and Malcolm X. Several non-US-native students also said that they really appreciate all that has happened in this country before they arrived here—especially the fact that people lost their lives to make life possible for them today.

Yolanda Rodriguez, Literacy Assistant at Harlem put it very well: 

"Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that achieving true freedom requires not only planting the seed of freedom, but also nurturing it, so that we may rejoice with an abundant harvest. That's what our students are doing—nurturing their newfound freedom through working on their English reading, writing, and speaking skills. This is our bridge, our Selma, a bridge to communication."

In one class blog, Ghislaine wrote:

"Selma is a powerful movie that taught me a lot about the civil rights movement. I knew that Martin Luther King and his partisans were pro non-violence, but I was really wondering how a non-violent movement could achieve its goal without using force. I thought it was impossible, but at the end of the movie I realized IT IS possible : the movie described how non-violence was the best weapon at that time against injustice. Selma makes you realize that sometimes, we tend to forget that if we are able to peacefully live all together, it’s because some people somehow fought for it in the past and even died for it. We all should keep that in mind and avoid repeating the same mistakes. Thanks so much to the NYPL and the tutor who gave us the opportunity to learn more about American history through this amazing movie. We are very lucky to be part of this program."

Associate Director of Adult Learning Centers, Ken English, commented,

"The issues raised continue to resonate in the headlines and daily lives of our students. How literacy, language, and education relate to the issues of segregation, exclusion from opportunity, racism, and the further expansion of the socio-economic divide, so obviously validates the work we do."

Thanks again to our generous donor! You have given our students such an important and worthwhile experience that they will long remember!

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