ABOVE PHOTO: Monique Michael presents the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method.
Photo credit: David M. Bernstein
The audience at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh on June 3rd gave a standing ovation to”The People of Clarendon County”—A Play by Ossie Davis, & the Answer to Racism! This event, based on the book by journalist and civil rights scholar Alice Bernstein, has been educating audiences around the country for four years. It is a project of the non-profit Alliance of Ethics &Art in New York City.
Joining Bernstein were black, white, and Native American speakers: Onilaja Waters, Earl Ijames, John E. Scott Richardson, Dr. Arnold Perey, and Monique Michael. They discussed what Aesthetic Realism, the education founded in 1941 by the great American philosopher Eli Siegel, explains is the cause of racism—contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else,” and the answer to racism, criticizing contempt, including in oneself, and learning to see the inner lives of other people as real and as deep as our own.
The one-act 1955 civil rights play, which Bernstein “unearthed” in 2004, chronicles the brave black parents whose challenge to unequal education led to the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, outlawing segregation in public schools. Ossie Davis applauded her vision of presenting the play in relation to Aesthetic Realism, believing the combination would be powerful in fighting racism. And it is!
The performance by the ensemble Voices in Concert: Joan Jai, Lester Hill, Jade Arnold, Connie McCoy Rogers, directed by Rudy Wallace, brought history to life; with moving and joyous musical accompaniment by Grammy nominee Cynthia Jones and the Diversity Choir of the NC Department of Cultural Resources, directed by Lorice Hyman.
Educator Monique Michael (born in Haiti), gave an interactive first grade science lesson on diversity in birds and people, illustrating the success of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method in bringing out every child’s true intelligence and kindness.
Ruby Dee, actor, Academy Award nominee, and wife of Ossie Davis, wrote:
“It moved my husband to think that…school children might learn about history by reading or acting in his play. In addition, Alice’s book will also inform people about the success of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method in enabling children to learn every subject, and ending racism in the classroom.”
To see history in motion, Alice Bernstein introduced North Carolina unsung heroes of civil rights from across the state: James Mills, the first African American Mayor of Scotland Neck; Joseph Holt, Jr., whose parents led the fight to desegregate Raleigh public schools; Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, civil rights activist in Hickory and NC NAACP Chair of Religious Affairs; Rev. Susan Smith, Associate Pastor of Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in Hickory and advocate for homeless recovering people returning to the community from treatment centers and prison; Rev. Portia Rochelle, President of Raleigh NAACP; Dr. Helen Chavis Othow of Oxford, biographer and descendant of John Chavis, a free black religious leader who fought in the American Revolution; and Stanley Baird of Durham, renowned jazz musician whose activism in the 1960s helped desegregate Woolworth’s and A&P. Activist Marvin Chambers, Sr., was the first African American professional engineer employed in Asheville. His grandson, second grader James Chambers, age 7, of Williamston, wrote a report about his Grandpa’s work for justice, and came to the NCMH stage with his father, Marvin Jr., representing three generations for civil rights.
The following day, the museum hosted a public seminar on the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method: “Justice to People through Every Subject We Teach.” With examples from their own classrooms, educators Dr. Arnold Perey, Rosemary Plumstead, Zvia Ratz, and Monique Michael, explained how this method succeeds in having students see the world with greater respect, encouraging intelligence and kindness. Students learn that every subject in the curriculum says something about the world and their own often-turbulent selves. The enthusiastic response to this seminar and the dynamic, informative, and productive Q&A, led to requests for further study in the coming months.
Commenting, unsung hero Joseph Holt said, “The beauty, the power, and the importance of the Aesthetic Realism philosophy reside in its enabling people to recognize what motivates us to see others as less than ourselves—contempt—and to learn that seeing others as more like ourselves than different is actually a greater and better acceptance of ourselves. The lessons conveyed by Aesthetic Realism, if practiced by all, would make for a more enjoyable and peaceful world.”
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