A Living Hero and a Sense of Wonder

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Elizabeth Eckford

Have you ever heard the story of Elizabeth Eckford?

If not, you may have seen her iconic photo in your high school history book bearing the brunt of extreme racism and fear. Elizabeth was one of the Little Rock Nine, the group of brave students who stepped across the color barrier into an all-white high school in 1957.

Exploring the Civil Rights Movement

Sand Hill history teacher Mr. Montgomery introduced our 7th and 8th graders to Elizabeth’s story via Jeff Steinberg, the leader of Sojourn to the Past, an incredible adventure that our middle schoolers will embark on this spring. Sojourn takes students on a journey through the Civil Rights Movement in the South, stopping in Atlanta, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, Little Rock and other historic locations. Students will meet living legends instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement including Congressman John Lewis, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Elizabeth Eckford, Clark Olsen, and Angela Lewis. Each will share moving accounts of racism, nonviolence, and social justice.

As Mr. Steinberg shared Ms. Eckford’s account, there were many tears and much sympathy. Everyone in the room felt connected to something larger, something critically important to our present and our future.

After Mr. Steinberg concluded Ms. Eckford’s emotional story, he pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and asked if anyone was ready to commit to a lifetime of equality and nonviolence. At first, only three or four students came to the front of the room.  But when he asked if anyone would like to share their personal commitment with Ms. Eckford, everyone in the room gasped with disbelief. He then dialed her number and we were all granted the gift of a personal conversation with a living hero.

I watched individual students and small groups step outside with anticipation, excitement, and wonderment. Some didn’t believe it was happening until after they got off the phone. There were tears. There were hugs. There was deep understanding. Sympathy turned to empathy.

A Powerful Message

I was the last to speak with Ms. Eckford. After tearfully thanking her for her heroism, I asked for advice on how to carry her message to the children of our future. Her voice showed hints of past scars and wisdom as she told me to guide our youth to becoming the hope in someone else’s day.

The power of this experience ranks up there with some of the most profound of my professional career. And the greatest part is this is only the beginning. Our adventure to the south will stoke so many historical passions, emotions and curiosities.

Already, many come to mind.  And as I prepare myself for Sand Hill’s Sojourn to the Past

  • I wonder what it must have been like to grow up in that time of social change.
  • I wonder what it’s going to be like to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
  • I wonder what I’m going to feel when we visit the hotel room where MLK was assassinated.
  • I wonder what questions I’m going to ask John Lewis about his life experiences.
  • I wonder how our students are going to positively impact the world.
  • I wonder…

What do you wonder about?

Jeff Kozlowski

Love school. Sand Hill School at Children's Health Council. Accepting applications. Apply now