The scenes from the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech are embedded in the pages of history as photos and video capture the emotion and gravity of the event.
Although their lives were fictional, their accounts portrayed a very real experience with facts about King's life, quotes from his speech and impressions that came from the students.
Ms. Mooney said she wanted the students to consider how they, the person behind the persona, were affected in their thoughts, actions or service by experiencing that day through their character.
“My intent is that we join in making the 'dream' of equality a reality in our own treatment of others — today as well as tomorrow,” Ms. Mooney wrote in an email. “In the words of Dr. King, 'When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir ... a promise that all ... would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'”
“To achieve this, I want students to understand the diversity of individuals affected by Dr. King's speech and how his words transformed or impacted each of them,” she wrote. “At the heart of all significant social change is the change in the heart of the human person.”
The students said the experience taught them not only about King's life, but about how they can make change in their world.
Hayden Reynolds, 14, played the part of a 20-year-old African-American alligator wrestler from Louisiana named Waylon Jones. The character was in Washington for an alligator fair and decided to go to King's speech while he was there.
“A lot of people tell (me) I have a pretty active imagination so it was pretty easy for me to come up with a story line,” said Hayden, who wore a straw hat and leather jacket and held an alligator skull while giving his speech to the class.
“That just spoke out to me,” he said. “You have to work hard to be able to get things you deserve like they worked hard for equal rights.”
Chloe Woods, 14, played a New York City photographer Tannis Breure, who was assigned to photograph King's speech in Washington.
“I really like photography so I thought I could show that through my character,” she said.
Through this first-person account, Chloe said she learned that King was a very determined person and did a lot to change people's perspective and the world.
“I learned that I should stand up for what I believe and stand up for my faith and if I do that people will probably remember me just like Martin Luther King Jr. because he stood up for what he believed and he preached it and many people remember him,” she said.
The students could use props to help make their account more realistic.
Sean Goggans, 14, played a Spanish exchange student named Antonio Martins, who was in Washington, D.C., studying. He wore a sombrero, held an American flag and spoke with a Spanish accent to make his portrayal believable.
Reed Navara, 13, acting as Washington, D.C., police officer Tom Raleigh, used a stuffed lion to represent a police dog and wore a shirt with a badge drawn on it for his uniform.
He said he created his character's story by compiling things he learned from movies, books and his own life experience.
“I thought it would be harder than what it was,” he said of the project. “It ended up being easy. I got into a state of mind where I just thought of idea after idea, of what to do.”
Ms. Mooney said she was humbled by the student's grasp of the concept of being “inextricably bound” to each other, something King described in his speech. She saw this demonstrated through their accounts and the way they joined King's words with their own.
She said they studied King's speech and the way he used certain words that conveyed unity.
“Unless we collectively and individually work to ensure equal rights for all, those born and those yet to be born, the magnificent words are only that — 'magnificent words,'” she wrote. “This is what I want my beloved students to understand, that how 'I' treat the vulnerable, the 'least of my brethren,' that is the test that truly counts.”