Blunt Rochester talks black history with Milford students

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester speaks with fourth grade students at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in Milford Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

MILFORD — There’s power in writing, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester told students at Banneker Elementary School Tuesday.

“Writing is so important. You can write your own history,” she said to a group of fourth-grade students. “You can start your own history book about your life.”

The thread of writing as power wove through Rep. Blunt Rochester’s visit, which was tied to Black History Month.

Sitting before the students, she read “Ruth and the Green Book” by Alexander Ramsey Calvin. The book that explores what a fictional African-American family experienced while traveling through the South in the 1950s.

Beyond the story, Rep. Blunt Rochester also brought two examples of green books, which were published during the Jim Crow era and indicated places that African-American travelers were able to eat, sleep, shop and more.

She showed students an example of a green book, which included stops in Delaware.

“I want to bring a message that reminds them of the past and what people have gone through for them to be able to live the life they live today, but also inspire them to take their own steps to make the world a better place,” she said later. “That’s really important, especially in these times.”

After her reading, she asked the students what the book made them think about.

“I’m grateful that things have changed and people can go anywhere,” Jacie Oakey said.

Reina Hinton said the book made her think about the struggles people went through.

“But we got up on our feet and got through it all,” she added.

Aubrey Johns considered what it would be like to have segregated schools.

“I would have never gotten to meet my friend,” she said.

Rep. Blunt Rochester noted that when Black History Month is celebrated, stories of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are often discussed, “but there are everyday people that make history. Even your teachers; you’re living a part of history,” she continued.

“For them, especially in Black History Month or Women’s History Month to see someone who, because of the efforts of Delawareans, has made history, I want them to see that it’s possible, and it’s not some far off, removed faction,” she added later. “Every single one of them is currently making history.”

When students discussed serious topics — one student spoke of the loss of a baby brother, another discussed homelessness — Rep. Blunt Rochester said that it’s important to share those stories.

“Writing for me has been both therapeutic and cathartic, but also it allows me to put down on paper proof that you were here,” she said.

She added that she felt humbled that the students shared those experiences with her.

“I think the whole notion of connecting is part of our purpose for being here, and what I hope to impart on them, and that’s why I share a little bit of my own personal story, that even through sadness, you can turn that pain into purpose,” she said.

Kevin Dickerson, superintendent of Milford School District, said Rep. Blunt Rochester’s connection with the students was particularly impactful.

“I think the connection with the speaker or guests are very important for our students. That’s how they really kind of maximize the impact of having our guests here,” he said. “She allowed for those connections to happen, and therefore I believe our students had a great learning and educational experience today.”