When moving to a new country, one thing that can sometimes be overlooked is learning about the history of that country. This is understandable; immigrants already have so much to learn and adjust to from language to culture to laws that history can sometimes be lost in the mix. I feel, however, that history informs our current culture and society and thus is not simply something irrelevant from the past but a living, breathing component of life in the United States today. Last month was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and this month is Black History Month. In our classes, we have been learning about some of the struggles and triumphs of notable Black Americans and how they impact us today.
In our classes, we discussed Martin Luther King Jr. and his work in the Civil Rights Movement. In some of the classes, students watched part of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speeches. One student was enthralled by Dr. King’s words and energy and excitedly quipped, “He speaks very passionately!” We also discussed Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
In one class, the students learned about a lesser known Black American: George Washington Carver. Carver, born into slavery in 1859, was a scientist, inventor and agriculturalist. Carver is probably best remembered for discovering more than 300 different uses for the peanut plant but he also studied fungi and soybeans. His talent and genius were sought after by many notable people, but Carver was committed to his goal: helping southern farmers. He turned down many lucrative job offers to focus on this goal. Our students found this very interesting. One of our ESL teachers, Diana Calvetti-Streleck, noted, “The students were impressed by Carver’s focus on his goal and that he didn’t let money get in the way of his goal.”
Like Dr. King, Parks, Carver and countless others, our students have goals, hopes, struggles and dreams. Although times change and society changes, people of the past still resonate with us because the human experience never changes. In my students’ lives and in the world there are still mountains to climb, injustices to fight and struggles to face but I hope that the lives and words of these incredible Americans of continue to live on and inspire our students.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver.
Kate Harris: ESL Instructor & Career Navigator
LSS Center for New Americans
P: 605-731-2000 | F: 605-731-2059
300 East 6th Street, Suite 100 Sioux Falls, SD 57103