LAKEWOOD, OH – From Rocky River City School District: Rocky River High School (RRHS) students had the unique opportunity to participate in a discussion with the architect of Memphis’ National Civil Rights Museum.
Charles McKinney, the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of History at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, made a special appearance Feb. 13 in RRHS history teacher Sara Ziemnik’s classes. The appearance is part of her 2017 National History Teacher of the Year award from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
McKinney spoke to about 85 current and former AP history students, and some students from her ninth-grade World History classes, on “Reconstruction and Modern Day Social Movements.” His appearance coincides with AP classes studying the Reconstruction and the early Jim Crow Era, leading up to studies on
the Civil Rights movement and different marginalized groups.
Ziemnik had her students submit questions that covered a variety of angles and modern movements.
“I was so impressed with the students’ thoughtful and insightful questions about everything from white privilege to Colin Kaepernick. Nothing was off the table,” she said. “We were having these conversations adults are afraid to have. It was so inspiring for me to see my students engage with someone who is an expert in the field.”
Ziemnik said McKinney challenged them as a group, adding that she, too, learned a lot about local movements for Civil Rights.
“He said for 87 percent of our country’s history, African-Americans haven’t had legal rights,” she said. “That blew my mind, when you think about it in that way. 1965 is when the Voting Rights Act was passed. When you look at that, we’re still in a relatively new period and still working through things.”
McKinney joined about 23 AP History students and members of the high school’s Students Advocating For Equality (SAFE) Club for a private lunch to continue the conversation. McKinney, whose son is a high school junior taking AP U.S. History, asked his students for advice as well.
At Rhodes College, McKinney teaches a variety of courses that focus on the African-American experience in the United States. He also challenges students to look at the content of their courses within larger historical contexts.
Ziemnik has taught American History and World History for 17 years at RRHS. She centers her classroom around debate, discussion and inquisitive learning.
“My students have the responsibility as American citizens to form their own opinions,” she said. “Nothing makes me prouder or happier than a classroom full of voices – sometimes arguing, sometimes questioning, and always developing a unique identity and sense of self as Americans.”
Photo Credit: Tracy Geagan Photography