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The Clark Commemoration Project: What are the expected takeaways for students?

How did the project come to fruition and how will the Clarks’ history manifest itself into the Hastings curriculum?

If you’ve passed by Mount Hope Boulevard in the last month, you’ve probably noticed the blue additions to the street signs which read “Drs. Mamie and Kenneth Clark Way.”

The co-naming of Mt. Hope Blvd marks the final event of phase one of the Clark Commemoration Project, an effort to celebrate and amplify the work of Mamie and Kenneth Clark, Hastings residents and heroic psychologists of the famous doll experiment, which was used as evidence for desegregating schools in the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision. The street signs were unveiled in a dedication ceremony to the Clarks at the James Harmon Community Center on October 14. 

The project was spearheaded by Hastings residents Jen Ito, Eddie Crawford, and Caitlin Chang, who collectively felt that our village had not done enough to recognize the Clarks. The residents came together after reaching this same conclusion from different experiences. 

Ito said she was partly inspired by her son during a walk on the aqueduct in 2020. As they passed the Clark plaque on Pinecrest Drive, “[she] asked him if he knew who the Clarks were, and he didn’t.” Even though her son was aware of the Brown decision, the fact that he did not learn about the Clarks struck her: “It’s a shame if students go through our [school] system not knowing this key tie to history.” 

Ito also shared that, as a Canadian, while studying for the naturalization exam, she discovered Kenneth Clark among the names in the Notable Foreign Born Americans section of The Citizen’s Almanac, which U.S. citizens are expected to know.

“If the US federal government thinks that we should know [him], then everyone should know [him],” Ito expressed. 

Chang shared that she is “part of Parenting Children of Color,” and two years ago, “the part of the program that [she] was responsible for focused on the doll study, so that’s how [she] really learned about it.” 

While Ito and Chang were already friends prior to the pandemic, Crawford met Ito in the fall of 2020, and she subsequently invited him to an Ardsley Multicultural Book Club Zoom discussion on How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, where he also met Chang. 

“We [were] interested in similar things about race, about equity, and we’d even read some books together,” said Ito. They also started a book club between the three of them, occasionally attending book talks related to social justice issues. As Ito put it, “it sort of coalesced altogether.” 

The residents also attended a meeting at the Irvington Historical Society in June 2022, in which members of this community spoke about “potentially co-naming the streets of prominent families [in their town] with the names of enslaved people” as a form of commemoration, planting the seed about the co-naming in Hastings. 

Eventually, after coming to mayor Nikki Armacost and the Hastings Historical Society with the idea, phase one of the commemoration came to fruition in the form of several educational events about the Clarks, including the assemblies at the Hastings schools with Minnijean Brown Trickey, and the street signs. As articulated by Crawford, phase two will involve having “two [informational] signage panels where Mt. Hope and Farragut merge” and “one at Lefurgy and Mt. Hope.”

In regards to the commemoration project and the question of connecting it to the Hastings schools, superintendent Dr. William McKersie said it was “an obvious yes, but the real heavy work has been done by our faculty with the village volunteer leaders,” as Mr. Greg Smith, the high school Social Studies Department Chair, and Dr. Jenice Mateo-Toledo, the Head of Diversity and Inclusion, helped bring the message of the project to the schools through the assemblies and informative signs in the high school lobby. 

“Right there, setting aside the [project itself], it’s a really powerful time when you can have our faculty on their own coming up with an important idea to work with village members. You don’t often see that,” Dr. McKersie expressed. 

When asked about what takeaways he hopes students gathered from the assemblies with Brown-Trickey, he said he wants this experience to be “a touchstone” for students as they go through life. From what he has observed, Dr. McKersie believes that “the vast majority of students knew who and what to expect [from the assembly]—they knew the history.” What was particularly powerful to him was that it was the “students asking the questions; it wasn’t the faculty doing that.”

In the same vein, Dr. Mateo-Toledo said: “My hope is that there is an understanding that history is told by the winners,” which Brown-Trickey made “very clear and stopped the assembly” to explain.

In the future, Dr. McKersie said: “I think the concepts and ideas will [show up in curriculum]—the idea of looking across all people to understand where we’ve had impact on us.”

Similarly, Crawford hopes that through the presence of Brown-Trickey and the Clarks, “their legacy will continue to be recognized.”

 “Not only by seeing the street signs and the signage panels that we have posted, but the implementation of educational lessons that are designed for the students [will help them] to know the history of what actually transpired, not only in this community, but throughout our nation at large,” Crawford said.

Ito also wants students to understand the importance of Mamie Clark in particular: “We want our students, especially our girls, to appreciate how much she did at a time when women were sidelined and not given the opportunity to be in the forefront. She was the rock.” As both Chang and Ito explained, the Northside Center, a youth mental health services facility in Harlem, “was hers” as she was always concerned with the question: “what about the children?” 

While it is easy to pinpoint the expected takeaways from the Clarks and Brown-Trickey at the middle and high school levels, it can be more difficult to convey this history to our elementary students in a way they understand. Ms. Amy Cazes, the principal of Hillside, worked closely with teachers to ensure that Hillsiders were grasping the history of segregation and the Little Rock Nine in order for them to be prepared for, and to resonate with, their assembly with Brown-Trickey.

“For each grade level we created a presentation that the teachers used in their classrooms,” Ms. Cazes explained, saying that “the teachers walk the children in a very age appropriate way.” While only third and fourth graders actually attended the assembly, all grade levels had lessons in the classroom about the historical importance of the Clarks.

For example, “for the kindergarteners and first graders they introduce the meaning of segregation and integration, as well as the Supreme Court decision, and what it means to protest. It brings all those vocabulary words together.” From there, the presentations became slightly more involved to suit the different grades.

Dr. McKersie, who attended all the assemblies with Brown-Trickey, said he “noticed that in the elementary interviews, students actually got more out of her as it relates to what it felt like to be a student at Little Rock.”

When asked about the implementation of the Clarks into future curriculum, Ms. Cazes explained that, already, “students are constantly reading about notable people and learning about ways to be able to make a difference.” 

“We work obviously at inclusivity so [the Clarks] will continue to absolutely be a part of our curriculum,” she expressed. 

Regardless of the grade level, it is vital that not only Hastings students, but schools around the nation understand the significance of the Clarks, because, as Dr. Mateo-Toledo said, “our school looks different because of the[m].” As articulated by Brown-Trickey, the Clarks prove that “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”


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Sophie Halliburton, Editor-in-Chief
Sophie is currently a senior at Hastings High School, and this is her third year being a part of The Buzzer. When she is not busy with school work, Sophie enjoys listening to music, going on drives with friends, and watching movies. Sophie loves The Buzzer and thinks you should too!

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