News Release, Charles County Public Schools

Arthur Middleton Elementary School students learned about the importance of voting Monday, Feb. 3, and that it is OK to be kind to people despite having differing opinions.

The Rev. Akil Dickens, a youth pastor at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, has visited Prince George’s County schools for years presenting Black History Month assemblies. He was invited to Middleton by the school’s secretary, Dawn Hudson, a parishioner at Ebenezer AME. Dickens held three assemblies — one each for third, fourth and fifth graders.

The topic of the day was voting. The theme of this year’s National Black History Month is African Americans and the Right to Vote. This year is the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment which gave African American men the right to vote following the Civil War.

Sienna Pickeral, left, and Rhyan Wingfield, third graders at Arthur Middleton Elementary School write their votes during a Black History Month assembly. The Rev. Akil Dickens of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington spoke to third, fourth and fifth graders about the importance of voting.

To illustrate how the process once worked before the 15th amendment was passed, Dickens asked that anyone not wearing jeans in the group of third graders to stand up against the wall.

Students in leggings, track pants and khakis left their denim-clad classmates sitting on the library carpet. Then, the kids in jeans were given a Post-it and pencil and asked to vote on chocolate — think Snickers or Reese’s Cups — or fruity — like Starburst or Skittles. The group standing had no say in the matter.

They were not happy to be left out. “Just because we’re not wearing the same clothing as some people doesn’t mean we’re not people,” third-grader Peyton Holmes said.

That’s when Dickens told the students about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The act focused on overcoming barriers at state and local levels that prevented African Americans from the right to vote. Kids not wearing jeans were then allowed to vote on their candy preference before returning to the floor buoyed by cheers, high fives, and hugs from their classmates.

The Rev. Akil Dickens, a youth pastor at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, visits Arthur Middleton Elementary School as a guest speaker to talk to third, fourth and fifth graders about the importance of voting.

The theme of the month highlights continuing voting struggles among some. Which led to Dickens’ next exercise. Students closed their eyes so they wouldn’t be influenced by their friends, and then voted for their favorite pizza place — Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s or Ledo’s. They formed four groups based on their preference. The exercise was used to demonstrate how people of various backgrounds who assume they have nothing in common can be likeminded.  

“It’s OK for us to be different and be cool with each other,” Dickens said.

Students reflected on what it meant to listen to other opinions without agreeing with them.

“By voting, you can form a community,” Nayeli Lopez, a third-grader, said.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...