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Middleton students learn importance of voting

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

The Rev. Akil Dickens, 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.

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 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 theme of the month highlights continuing voting struggles among some. Which led into 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 okay 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.