By David Sheridan
Photo: After viewing “The Lie,” county fire, rescue and police employees visited Melinda Nwoye’s 4th grade class to congratulate them and discuss racial, ethnic and gender stereotyping.
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The only people in this video are students from Melinda Nwoye’s 4th grade class at Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland. These nine and ten-year-olds speak directly to the camera about the stereotype that hurts them the most.
A girl in a hijab: “Muslims are terrorists.”
An African American boy: “Black boys are bad.”
A Hispanic boy: “Latinos can’t speak English.”
An Asian boy: “Asian can’t play sports.”
Then each student rejects the lie and tells their truth—and it’s amazingly powerful.
The idea behind the video came from teacher Melinda Nwoye. She knew that the inflammatory rhetoric of the presidential campaign had spilled over into her diverse classroom and students were upset. So she combined the class’ next project—poetry—with an opportunity for the students to share how they felt about the negative and hurtful things they’d been hearing.
“I think Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise, especially her message that you aren’t going to hold me down—I am going to rise up—inspired the students to open up,” says Ms. Nwoye. “I also showed them a video of a poetry slam and that really energized them.”
The student’s words in “The Lie” are taken from longer poems they wrote in class. The video was done by Kevin Pastor, a professional film maker and the son of the school’s principal, Peggy Pastor.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” says Ms. Nwoye, an 18-year-veteran of teaching. “It’s been a greater learning experience for the students, and I hope for those who see the video.
“I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and I know people can get stuck in the lies that they believe about others who are different from them. Maybe this video will help some folks get unstuck.”
“The Lie” will be shown in every movie theater in Montgomery County, Maryland during the months of January and February.
Here is the last stanza of the poem which so inspired Ms. Nwoye’s students, Maya Angelou’s I Still Rise:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.