PARKLAND – “I am Malcolm Little, or as people call me, Malcolm X.”
Wearing a black suit, glasses and bowtie, 10-year-old Raymond Melendez stood up from his seat to give a rousing monologue that evoked thunderous applause.
“I thought blacks being treated unfairly was unacceptable,” Melendez said, “so I stood up for civil rights.”
Melendez, a fourth-grader at Riverglades Elementary School in Parkland, learned all about Malcolm X recently by stepping into his shoes – almost literally – for a day. Melendez and his classmates were part of the school’s “Living Wax Museum.”
Students in Daphne Robins' fourth-grade class studied black history by posing as living statues of historical black Americans.
To play Malcolm X, Melendez cut his hair to match the civil rights leader’s cropped “do,’’ and carried a blue Bible to school, meant to represent the Holy Quran that Malcolm studied.
“I was inspired by how he fought for civil rights,” said Melendez, of Parkland. “I thought it was really worthwhile to do this.”
Lydia Birge, 10, who played Harriet Tubman, kept a somber face while embodying the famous abolitionist.
“When I freed the slaves in Pennsylvania, I felt like I was in heaven,” Birge said in character. “Even though I am no longer living, I am an inspiration to all Americans.”
On Feb. 29 and again on March 3, students and parents toured the “museum” – Robins’ classroom – and interacted with the 24 “statues.”
“I wanted to broaden their horizons,” said Robins, who gave students about a month to prepare a speech posing as a famous black American of their choice. This is the second year she has hosted the Living Wax Museum.
“I leave the creativity up to them,” Robins said.
Dressed up as tennis player Arthur Ashe, Gabrielle Weissman wore knee-high white socks, oversized black glasses, and carried a wooden tennis racket.
As actress Halle Berry, the first black woman to win a Best Actress Academy Award, Gillian Morrison wore a flowing pink dress and glittery jewels.
Zachary Wind dressed up as Tony Dungy, who in 2007 became the first African-American NFL coach to win the Super Bowl. Wind carried around a clipboard with football plays scribbled in black.
“I learned a lot about people I've never heard [of] before,” said Wind, 10, who learned about Dungy while researching him on the Internet. “I learned a lot of the things that have happened because of black people, like that Condoleezza Rice is the first black woman to serve as [United States] Secretary of State.”
Bradley Thornton, 10, of Parkland, who posed as Bernard A. Harris, the first African-American to walk in space, said prior to that day, he had never heard of Garret Morgan, an African-American inventor who patented the traffic signal.
“I really got to learn about new people,” he said. “Half of these people I didn't even know about.”
Students also had to create paper dolls of their character, which dangled from the ceiling of the classroom.
Other characters in the Living Wax Museum included Barack Obama, Randy Moss, Pearl Bailey, Zora Neale Hurston, Jackie Robinson and Bill Cosby.
Principal Shelly Isenberg said the original event was so popular, Robins decided to host the event for a second day this year.
“They get a wide variety of black history, especially for the people that may not be as well known,” she said. “This is what brings history to life for students.”
Photo by Sumner Hutcheson III. Teacher Daphne Robins, center, poses with Raymond Melendez as Malcolm X, left, and Benjamin Ribotsky, right, as Bill Cosby.