Thurgood Marshall, Barack and Michelle Obama, Willie Mays and Oprah Winfrey all made appearances in Pleasanton on Thursday morning, as fifth-graders at Fairlands Elementary School assumed the roles of famous African-Americans for a "living museum" in honor of Black History Month.
This is the fourth year of putting together the "African-American Living Museum" for Kelly Lack, who teaches one of the four fifth-grade classes at the elementary school on West Las Positas Boulevard.
"It really gives (my students) a new perspective," Lack said.
The museum was held in the multipurpose room at the school, with the fifth-grade students stationed along the edges, at their own individual tables, adorned with photos, books and other relevant paraphernalia. Other classes circled through to visit the "exhibits" and take notes, as Lack's students gave animated spiels about the lives and accomplishments of their chosen subjects.
In between class tours and in between recitations, the students turned into "statues," only coming to life when visitors touched a sticker reading "press me" on their hands -- the statue activation button.
Lack said that she borrowed the idea for the living museum from her mentor teacher, Heidi Hahne, when they taught in Pittsburg. Hahne was at the Thursday event.
In Pittsburg where many of her students were African-American, Hahne said the living museum was an opportunity for students to learn about and celebrate their heritage.
And Lack said that while the population in Pleasanton is much different (this year she doesn't have any African-American students in her class), the museum is still very important. Stepping into the shoes of someone else and learning about the "trials and tribulations" that many of their famous characters faced, establishes an "immediate empathy," she said.
The research and presentation skills acquired also align perfectly with fifth-grade standards, Lack added.
"We have a lot of performers," she laughed.
To prepare for the event, students combed through books and research materials, wrote lengthy papers and spent hours rehearsing their speeches.
Minji Bu, 11, chose to represent Charlotte Ray, the first African-American female attorney in the country. She found Ray especially inspiring, Bu said, because she faced prejudice and obstacles both as an African American and as a woman trying to practice law at the end of the 19th century.
"She still did amazing things to help the world ... Charlotte still was able to push through," Bu said.
Sawyer Thordsen, 11, first had wanted to assume the role of Barack Obama or a famous athlete, but his mother told him to "dig deeper." So he decided to take on musician Jimi Hendrix.
He too was impressed by Hendrix's ability to persevere in the face of obstacles, like poverty and a difficult childhood.
"He broke through the odds; he's really a hero," Thordsen said.