On September 21—International Peace Day—Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow attended and participated in the dedication of the Zinn Room at the brand new Busboys and Poets bookstore in Hyattsville, Md.
Here are excerpts from a synopsis published at the Zinn Education Project website.
…The date ended up being more significant than could have been imagined. An extraordinary group of people spoke, sang, and read to honor the memory of historian and activist Howard Zinn and to support the Zinn Education Project‘s efforts to promote teaching people’s history in middle and high school classrooms.
The 300-plus attendees were inspired by the words of Jeff Zinn, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Cornel West, Dave Zirin, Beverly Daniel Tatum, Marian Wright Edelman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Medea Benjamin, Craig and Cindy Corrie, and more.
The pall of the impending execution of death row inmate Troy Davis hung in the air. Emcee-for-the-evening Dave Zirin, wearing an “I Am Troy Davis” T-shirt, said it most bluntly. While acknowledging how far the struggle for justice has come, he decried “the legal lynching going on in Georgia.” He then led a heartfelt call of “They say death row” and the room resounded with the response of “We say hell no!”
Dave Zirin said: “Howard taught us that it was the masses of people who are actually the engine of history, and that’s what the Zinn Education Project is now fighting to preserve for our classrooms. Nowadays the textbooks are being written by corporations, with Texas dominating the market and narrative. It’s as if Rick Perry is your child’s history teacher.
Who would you rather have teaching the children of America, Rick Perry or Howard Zinn?” The audience responded, “Howard Zinn.” “This is why,” Dave explained, “we are here tonight to support the Zinn Education Project so teachers have access to resources for ‘teaching outside the textbook.’”
This sentiment was echoed by two high school students (Jonah Best and Jared Perez) and their teacher Mr. Julian Hipkins III.
Perez shared how Zinn sparked his interest in learning history so much that when his Mom sends him to bed, he waits until he hears that she has gone to sleep and then “I turn on my lamp and start reading A People’s History.”
Hipkins related how when he first read A People’s History of the United States: “I felt betrayed by our education system. I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of [these stories] before, especially as a man in his mid-20s. From that point forward I decided that I would use this book as the classroom textbook.” He credited the Zinn Education Project for making this possible.
Cornel West gave an impassioned talk about Zinn as a public intellectual: “He fundamentally believed that the life of the mind matters, that ideas make a difference, and it’s important that you commit yourself not just to reading, but to thinking critically about what you’re reading.”
Beverly Daniel Tatum explained that soon after she became president of Spelman she learned that Howard Zinn had been fired from the college in 1963 because of his activism. “That was a piece of history that needed cleaning up,” she said, “so I invited Howard Zinn to be the 2005 commencement speaker.”
Tatum quoted from Zinn’s words of encouragement to the graduates in his speech: ”You don’t have to do something heroic, just something, to join with millions of others who will just do something, because all of those somethings, at certain points in history, come together, and make the world better.”
She closed by acknowledging two former Spelman students among the evening’s speakers—Marian Wright Edelman and Bernice Johnson Reagon.
The ticket sales and raffles generated almost $8,000 to continue the work of the Zinn Education Project. This amount will be matched by an anonymous donor.
Read the complete event report here.