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Local students learn about the African-American experience

BRADENTON -- Twelve students sat with their legs crossed on a special mat in Marti Bhame’s first-grade class Wednesday morning at G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary School, waiting for a special treat.

Anita Rogers, a member of the Manatee County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, sat in front of the small group.

Rogers told the children that she is the daughter-in-law of the school’s namesake. She visited the school to be a part of an event taking place across the country Wednesday -- the 22nd national African-American Read-In during Black History Month.

“We’re trying to connect the children to the African-American experience and the expressions of African-American writers,” Rogers said.

Rogers opened a tall, blue book and began sharing Pulitzer Prize nominee Clifton Taulbert’s “Little Cliff and the Cold Place” -- a book about a child named Cliff who learned about the Arctic from his teacher and asked his great-grandfather to drive him there.

In an excited voice, Rogers imitated the young Cliff in the book, begging his great-grandfather to take him to the Arctic, “Little boys like me can ride on sleds pulled by dogs,” he said.

Students in the class asked to see the pictures. Rogers posed a few questions: “Can you imagine a place where there’s no sun? Living in Florida, we can’t imagine that -- can we?”

In great-grandfather Papa Joe’s slow, aged voice, Rogers said, “Son, folks can’t drive to the Arctic. The real world is mighty big.”

The children enthusiastically shared what they liked about the story. One said he liked the idea of fishing on ice. Another said he liked the part of the story where Cliff climbed a Chinaberry tree. And one girl said she liked Cliff’s showing his adventures during his class’ show and tell.

She explained how Papa Joe’s words didn’t persuade Cliff. But in the end, Papa Joe finds a clever way to get to Cliff’s version of the Arctic -- the cold place where people fish on ice. The ending not only delighted Cliff, but it caused first-graders in Bhame’s class to smile as well.

“When you want your dreams to come true and you can’t quite get there, you can use your imagination to get there,” Rogers said.