This weekend I traveled from one corner of Virginia to the other – from the rural mountains of Farmville all the way to Arlington/Washington DC area. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated the spirit of Martin Luther King Day.
My first stop on Saturday was in Farmville. I was invited by the folks behind the Virginia Children’s Book Festival to tour the Moton Museum and other sites for the upcoming VCBF (Oct 16 – 17, 2015). The Museum, as part of its commitment to children in the Farmville area, is a founding partner in the festival.
The Moton is also an absolute gem. It’s the former Moton High School – and the historic site of a student walkout led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns and fellow students who demanded better conditions. Their case eventually got picked up by civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and became part of the five cases that made up Brown v. Board of Education.
Justin Reid, the museum’s associate director for operations, led us through the exhibits, which are a visual chronology of Virginia’s role in the early civil rights movement. Many of the families who were part of movement – as well as those who wished to keep schools segregated – still live in Farmville. Prince Edward County participated in Massive Resistance, of course, shuttering schools rather than integrating, so there is an especially poignant personal element to all the photos and artifacts. But there’s also a spirit of forward movement and strength. Places like the Moton are our best hope to forge reconciliation and understanding. They tell our most difficult stories as a country through the personal stories of the people who lived them. If you haven’t been to the Moton, put it on your list.
When we think of people whose rights have historically been ignored, we can certainly include young people with disabilities, too. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of traveling to DC with my pals Gigi Amateau and A.B. Westrick. We went to see Mockingbird, a family theater performance at The Kennedy Center. I’d never been to the Kennedy Center, so that felt like a thrill in and of itself. But even better, we were there to see our friend’s book performed as theater. The play, adapted by Julie Jensen and directed by Tracy Callahan, is based on Mockingbird, winner of the 2010 National Book Award, and written by our friend (and fellow Virginia author) Kathy Erskine. We were crazy proud. Really, all we were missing were pom-poms.
The play captured the delicate balance of grief, hope, and healing that Kathy laid out in her novel. Told through the eyes of Caitlin, a girl with autism, the play allows the audience inside the heart and mind of a young woman whose challenges can easily keep her isolated. It is by turns hilarious and touching – but also unerringly true about grief, families, and love. Everything from the use of technology in the set design to the nuanced performance by Dylan Silver in the lead role was absolutely perfect. I’ll tell you right here, bring tissues. The play runs through Feb.1. Tickets are $20. Highly recommended.