Parker students ready to represent Illinois at national history competition

Five Parker Junior High students will be dramatizing the story of the Black Panther Party when they represent Illinois in the junior high division at the National History Day competition June 10 at the University of Maryland.
 
A campaign is on now to help fund the students’ trip to the East Coast for the competition.
 
Brice Anderson, Chito Emebeche, Isis El Harris, Madison Leathers and Makayla Taylor have been working on the project since December under the supervision of Linda ODwyer, their seventh grade social studies teacher. "Triumph and tragedy" was the theme for this year’s competition.
 
  Parker Junior High teacher Linda ODwyer and students,
  from left, Chito Emebeche, Makayla Taylor, Madison
  Leathers, Brice Anderson and Isis El Harris are getting
  ready for a trip to the National History Day competition.

  (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
 
The students call their seven-minute play “The Black Panthers: Violence or Justice.” It runs through the turbulent years of the black power movement and includes the 1968 deaths of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and fellow member Mark Clark at the hands of officers of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Nearly 100 rounds were fired on Black Panther members as they slept in a Chicago apartment.  
 
The students end the production with the dramatic recitation of the Black Panthers’ 10-point program that emphasized their desire for power to determine their own destiny.
 
In all, Parker Junior High had 21 students in the history competition in various categories. The Illinois History Day judging categories were a history paper, a website, a documentary, an exhibit or a performance. ODwyer said she knew performance was the most challenging, but she believed these five students were up to it.
 
“Because it’s live, it takes more from you every time. It’s just a lot more of a personal investment in it every time you have to perform,” unlike a paper or a documentary, she said.
 
When the group discussed topics, Madison suggested the Black Panthers after she watched a documentary with her mother. She thought it would be a good topic because it intersects with Chicago history.
 
They did extensive research, wrote the script, selected parts, memorized and dramatized the performance. There are seven characters, so two students doubled up on parts. They are all dressed in black and wear leather jackets. Police officers’ roles are distinguished by dark blue shirts. 
 
The first round of judging was a local schools competition March 14 at South Suburban College. From there, Parker students advanced to regionals March 30 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Competitors came from throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
 
The Parker students said they really weren’t thinking about winning, but they were excited to move to state competition in Springfield May 2. Again, they didn’t think they’d win. Judges ranked them first based on a well-written script, well memorized, good use of space with movement.
 
The conclusion – the recitation of the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program – was deemed “especially powerful.”
 
“I guess it was the way we said it, with power in our voices,” said Madison.
 
Parker is one of two teams in the performance category to represent Illinois. Their competition will come from the 49 other states. The competition is also open to other countries.
 
They will leave on June 9, the last day of school, to fly to the competition with Parker social studies teachers ODwyer and Janet McKenna. Several parents will also be accompanying them.
 
District 161 has opened a GoFundMe account to raise money for the trip. It is estimated the cost for each student will be $750.
 
Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com.

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