READY students mark Black History Month with own extracurricular projects

READY students mark Black History Month with own extracurricular projects

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign Police Department has a new, wooden American flag to hang at its headquarters, thanks to the handiwork of a young fan.

Jahiem Law, a student in Champaign's READY school, worked for eight days to get the flag together in time to present it Wednesday to Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb in honor of two officers who have died in the line of duty: Robert L. Tatman and Thomas Dodsworth.

"I just wanted to say thank you and be nice," Law said. "With everything they do for us, I wanted to show my appreciation. I was happy with (the flag)."

The flag, black and white with a blue band, represents the thin blue line, a phrase and symbol used by law enforcement.

"It was an honor to receive the flag," Cobb said. "It's nice to see that they're thinking about law enforcement, and I truly appreciate their generosity. Now I have to get back and see where we'll put it."

Cobb added that the flag will have a plaque attached to it with Law's name and that it will be prominently displayed inside the department's headquarters.

The rest of Wednesday's Black History Month celebration at the alternative Champaign school for at-risk youth included a live performance from Mother Nature, a Chicago-area hip-hop group consisting of emcees Shasta "Klevah" Knox and Tierney Reed, aka T.R.U.T.H.

Students also showed off what they had been working on in between classes for the past week: spoken-word poetry, a stepping performance, and a play called "Casey's Dream."

Donna Kaufman, director of alternative education at READY, said the celebration was the kids' doing from the very beginning.

"They wanted to celebrate Black History Month in a really big way," Kaufman said. "They created it. They wanted to do step and dance, art, spoken word, and we were blessed that other community stepped in to make this happen."

Behavior specialist Anton Sanders helped choreograph the step-dancing and said that, at first, the staff thought it was going to have to force the students to get the projects done.

"But their energy levels were at a hundred from the very beginning," Sanders said. "They were shooting off so many ideas that we couldn't even get all of it in the show. We couldn't even keep up for a minute."

Kaufman said the students wanted to showcase their creativity to get away from the misconceptions around being in the READY program. Sanders said the hope was that the celebration would help show people that the READY program shouldn't be viewed as punishment but rather a place for culture and community.

"Our students who attend READY have a lot of gifts, and for whatever reason they're here, but that's OK," Kaufman said. "They have a chance to come to a really caring and nurturing environment to help them get through their day."

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