In February during the Carlos Rosario School’s Black History Month celebration, immigrant adult learners watched as ESL students from Asia, Latin America and Africa reenacted the WoolWorth’s lunch counter protest, an event that put another crack in the firm grip of segregation in the south. Students were mock roughed up and knocked down on stage in a dramatization of the violence faced by the four civil rights heroes.
GED student Beqir Gjoka, a 40 year old Albanian native, said he was almost in tears as he watched. Through the GED class Gjoka had studied civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks. So when spring break came around, Gjoka, inspired by the Black History Month skit and by what he’d learned in class, had an idea about how to build on his learning beyond the classroom.
Gjoka planned a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas with his teenage son and daughter. The family visited Central High School where nine African American students, who had enrolled in the historically white school in 1957, were blocked from entering by the governor. President Eisenhower intervened and under the supervision of the 101st airborne division and later the Arkansas National Guard the nine we able to attend.
Gjoka’s daughter, Elisabeth, wanted her photo taken in front of the school. Snapping the photo, Gjoka told her, “Where you’re standing are the footprints of people who helped end segregation in schools. We should honor their heroism because they changed the future for African American kids.”
His daughter, who had also studied segregation in school, wrote an essay about the experience: “I was really excited because I was standing in front of the most well-known high school where segregation was broken and a new era was coming for everyone.”
Reflecting on the experience Gjoka said he wanted his daughter to see that coming from Albania to the U.S. is not just what she saw on TV. She has to learn American history, learn the values of those people who fought to get the country where it is today.