Written by Sylvia Denice
As a fourth grade teacher, my Social Studies curriculum revolves around Indiana state history. It is a long-standing tradition at the elementary school where I teach that fourth graders create a “Famous Hoosier Wax Museum.” Each student selects a famous person from Indiana to research. They formulate speeches to inform other students about the lives of the Hoosiers, including their upbringings, careers, and impact on society. The pinnacle of the project is when students line the hallways of the school dressed as their “Famous Hoosiers” and deliver their speeches to other students in the school community.
Every year, I have brilliant students of color lining the halls dressed as white men like Jim Davis, Larry Bird, Abraham Lincoln, Gus Grissom, and David Wolf. This year, I decided it was time to update the Famous Hoosiers selection list to better reflect my students. This meant adding more people of color and women to the list. This change brought new depth to my students’ presentations and performances. This used to be a project put aside after presentation day in October, but this year it has transformed into a recurring topic of student discussions. Students made stronger connections to themselves and the world around them once the Famous Hoosier List was diversified.
I recently sat down with fourth grader Raven to revisit her experience studying and playing Mari Evans in our Famous Hoosier Wax Museum. Mari Evans “is famous because she was an African-American writer and poet,” Raven recalled. Evans was associated with the Black Arts Movement and taught at several Indiana universities. She died in March of 2017 in Indianapolis at the age of 97.
When Raven first heard about the Famous Hoosier project, she explained “[I] wasn’t that excited because [I] was thinking that it was going to be really boring just looking at some ‘famous’ people doing nothing.” She continued, “now I understand what was going on, and it was really, really fun. I just felt like I was really Mari Evans.” Raven selected Mari Evans from the list because of her recognition for writing. Raven has an affinity for writing as well. “I don’t write poetry, but we both write, so we have a connection there,” she explained. “Her poetry is something you should read because they are really deep,” Raven encouraged.
My class has been celebrating black history this month with highlights including viewing Hidden Figures, reading biographies about Thurgood Marshall, and discussing famous peacemakers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I used to think Black History Month meant celebrating slaves,” Raven stated. “Now I know what it really means is celebrating all black people. I think [Mari Evans] would really feel special and appreciated,” she added when I shared with her the role Mari Evans plays in our celebration of black history. Raven would like to encourage readers to visit downtown Indianapolis to see the mural painted in Mari Evans’ honor, and to celebrate all black people!