Class field trip to see Harriet

By Don Wilms, retired educator and READ Center teacher

Put together history, drama, science, songs in code, a little folklore, and perfect timing—and you get a great educational experience.

The history begins with Harriet Tubman: Moses of Her People, from the 1,000 Readers series.  The song in code is “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” and the bit of folklore is that it was taught to slaves by Peg Leg Joe, one of the conductors on the Underground Railroad.  The science is astronomy and the knowledge that the bowl end of the Big Dipper, or Drinking Gourd, always points to the North Star, Polaris, one of the brighter stars in the night sky, which twinkles above the North Pole and is always visible in the northern hemisphere.  Hence, following the Drinking Gourd means heading north to freedom.

The drama is the new movie Harriet, filmed entirely in Virginia, which opened just a few weeks ago:  perfect timing for getting immersed in Harriet Tubman’s amazing story.

So . . . we read the story, learned about the folklore and the hidden meaning behind the lyrics of the song, studied the stars a bit, and learned how to make a drinking gourd out an actual gourd, each student having received one, along with a ladle, which many websites call a dipper.  Then, the movie being released the next day, an anonymous donor said she’d like to pay for all my students to attend Harriet.  Well, you don’t turn down offers like this.

Our class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays.

—Lavado: Can we make it Tuesday?

. . .  Well, Tuesday just happens to be $7.00-day at Movieland at Boulevard Square, better known as Bow Tie Cinemas on Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

Next, we learned how to use our smartphones and the GRTC website to get us there using the Pulse.

Jammar and Rashad wait for the Pulse.

—Rashad:  Don, I’ve never been on the Pulse.  Can I meet you here and go with you?

—Lavado:  I know how to get to Bow Tie.  I’ll take the #20 bus.  I’ll meet you there.

—Tim (who works in the City Hall building):  I’ll walk.

—Me:  That’s kind of far.

—Tim:  I’m in good shape.

(Tim secretly wanted to try out the Pulse on his own.  And he did.)

. . .

November 18: Calvin calls.  Unfortunately he will not be able to join us.

November 19, 10:13 A.M.  I walk up the ramp at the Franklin Library for our 10:15 sharp rendezvous.  I see Hiram and Jammar, but not Rashad.  But, wait, here he comes exactly at 10:15.  As we walk north on 2nd Street, Hiram and I several paces ahead of Jammar and Rashad . . .

—Hiram:  (To me) They can’t keep up with us.  (Over his shoulder) Why are you so far behind?

Jammar picks up his pace to catch up with us.

—Rashad:  You’re walking too fast.

—Hiram:  (Jokingly) You’re too heavy.

There’s never a dull moment.  But we arrive shortly at Broad Street, where I point out the Pulse stop one block east on the other side of the street.

At Convention Center station, I purchase a ticket, then guide Hiram through the process, all under the watchful eye of a transit officer.  (Jammar and Rashad have their regular bus passes.)  The bus comes in moments and we board by the back door.  Hiram and I sit, but Rashad heads up to show the driver his pass, Jammar following his lead.

—Me:  Rashad, sit down.

—Rashad:  Don’t I have to show her my pass?

—Me:  Nope.

As we approached the Science Museum stop . . .

—Rashad:  Don’t we have to pull the chord?

—Me:  There is no chord.

I explain that the Pulse runs like a subway:  you purchase your ticket before you get on, and it stops at every station.  We exit the bus.  I point out the Science Museum as we head toward Ashe Boulevard and our destination.

READ student Tim poses with the Harriet poster outside of the theater.

Entering by the box office, we see tutors Lisa and Jennifer first, then Tim and Lavado.  Tutors Anne and Sue arrive in short succession.  Tickets in hand, we enter.

—Rashad:  I’m going to put my gym bag down in the theater.

—Hiram:  But first, where’s the bathroom?

—Jammar:  I’m going to get some popcorn.

—Rashad: I am too.

Meanwhile, Tim and Lavado have staked out their own row, with the tutors sitting behind them.  Hiram joins them, but Jammar and Rashad sit in between Jennifer and Lisa.

. . .

The movie?  Wow!  But of course we did not interact with each other.  (And Lavado turned his phone off, apparently believing us when we all said they would throw him out.)  Afterward, folks split up pretty quickly.  Hiram, Jammar, Rashad, and I reversed our trip, chatting about the film, me encouraging them to write about their experience.  At the station we met local character Tony, who knew everyone on the bus and immediately considered us his friends.  The bus was crowded and an officer asked to see tickets.

Back at Broad and 4th I had to convince Jammar, who’d been carrying a jumbo popcorn for his cousin since we left the movies, that it made no sense for him to walk back to the library if his bus stop was two blocks in the other direction.  I bid good-by to him and Rashad, who almost collided with a moving car, and Hiram and I walked back, chatting about the movie.  A successful day all around.

The READ Center is changing lives through adult literacy. For more information on how you can get involved with the READ Center, consider volunteering as a tutor or donating. If you or someone you know would like more information about joining our classes, learn how to become a student or call 804-288-9930.