Artwork from students such as Richards Middle eighth-grader Pakiado Yaymoungkoun will be on display at Moore Middle on Monday as part of the county-wide Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. parade celebration. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
LAWRENCEVILLE — As a native of Gadsden, Ala., Alaina Cunningham has not forgotten her roots even though she’s an eighth-grader at Moore Middle.
So when Cunningham was prompted to make artwork as part of Gwinnett’s 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration on Monday, she was inspired to think about Alabama and the respect and friendliness that she sees the state’s residents have for one another. With a colorful piece of art in the shape of Alabama, Cunningham said she chose that style to represent all the colors of people.
“I know we weren’t all equal,” Cunningham said. “I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for him and what he did.”
Cunningham was one of hundreds of students from across Gwinnett County Public Schools who participated in the art exhibit that has the theme, “Strengthening our community, nation and world.” On Monday, the parade begins at 10 a.m. at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse in downtown Lawrenceville and will end at Moore Middle, which will have a free health fair until 2:30 p.m.
The artwork made by Moore students, and students from 100 Gwinnett schools will be on display.
The event is organized by the United Ebony Society of Gwinnett County, Inc. and students and families are invited to attend.
“It’s engaging what Dr. King had done in the past to basically foster students as well as adults, the entire community to come together as one, to focus on the impact that he had on us as a people, everybody, not just African-Americans,” said Nadege Lila Demaitre, a seventh-grade science teacher at Moore and vice president of the United Ebony Society.
Moore visual arts teacher Katherine Smith said she took an idea from some of the ideas that King promoted, and encouraged the students to work on a collaborative project. The students were given the 50 states, but told not to think of them as they usually might, such as food, personalities and accents.
Smith asked the students to create the “state of you, because everybody in there is a unique individual, you pull from many different things, you have different lives, different interests.”
“I want to be able to see you in that shape,” she said.
After the shapes were finished, Smith said eighth-graders last week stitched the shapes together to form a “greater whole.”
“Although they’re each individuals,” Smith said, “they’re creating a greater whole and talking about when you bring the best of you, your unique talents, to a larger whole; you make it better, you’re part of something greater.”
Moore seventh-grader Jaiwann Brown drew a multi-colorful shape using pencil, but had shades that were deep enough that he said could be easily mistaken for using a marker. His inspiration was based on King’s message of respect.
“He gave respect, so people gave respect back to him,” Brown said. “If you don’t give respect, people won’t give you respect.”
This was the first year the students worked on art projects instead of an essay, which was replaced because of its time-consuming nature and more students being more receptive to art.
“Everyone’s really loving it, especially the students are very hands-on,” Demaitre said. “They’re able to show their creativity, so that’s definitely more accepting. The essay takes a lot of work, a lot of thought, and not every student likes to write. We do get the non-participants to actually participate.”
The type of artwork changed by the age of the students. Demaitre said elementary students were more likely to create something that appeared to be their community, while older students designed pictures of King.
One high school student made a picture of President Barack Obama and King, and people surrounding them of different races and nationalities.
“That really spoke volumes to me,” Demaitre said.
Recently, race has become less divisive among students, Smith said, especially since she was in school about 20 years ago.
“These kids, they’re aware of race and all of the socio-economic things around them, however, if they don’t have an adult telling them, ‘OK, this is where you belong.’ They acknowledge it, but it’s not a divisive thing for them,” Smith said.
For Demaitre, Monday is a reminder that this type of celebration shouldn’t be contained to one day.
“The main thing everyone is talking about is we should celebrate these things throughout the year, and be the center of our focus and it should empower us to do more as a community,” she said. “It should help them to see how this school and the community is one. Monday should be an opportunity where we come together as one, and this should be the focus throughout our lives as educators and community members.”