February dedication plans for Rosa Parks hit drawing board board

By Jeffrey Obser Daily Planet staff
Tuesday October 23, 2001

Rosa Parks Elementary School won’t have the official dedication ceremony for its new name until February, but students, parents, and teachers are gearing up now to get as much educational mileage as possible out of the highly symbolic designation. 

In partnership with the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA), students are beginning to choose civil-rights-related symbols and images for tiles which they plan to paint, bake, and see installed on two concrete half-moon benches out front. 

In the meantime, staff are putting together a “resource box” with photos and kid-friendly materials on Parks, who touched off the modern civil-rights movement when she refused to give her bus seat to a white man in Birmingham, Ala. on Dec. 1, 1955. 

“The kids really are studying it now because we’re talking about it in class time with MOCHA,” said Kathy Freeburg, the dedication’s program coordinator. 

Rosa Parks herself, 88 years old and living in Detroit, was invited to attend the Feb. 23, 2002 dedication. However, said Freeburg, Parks doesn’t travel much any more and would have needed a specially chartered plane. 

The choice of a keynote speaker for the event remains a closely held secret, judging by the reluctance of planning committee members to share their delib erations with the press at a meeting Monday. Plans are also afoot to enlist parents and community members to donate money, flowers and food for the event. 

Kindergarten teacher Tontra Love and reading teacher Mary Burmester are also coordinating a fund-raising and awareness-building “brick campaign.” Community members purchase bricks, which are engraved and installed in front of the school, in the circle of soil between the rounded benches, which will soon be covered with children’s tiles. 

Alison Kelly, the principal, said the tiles would be laid sometime before February, and the school district’s official sign was on its way as well. 

“The idea is to celebrate the new building,” said Rebecca Herman, a parent on the coordinating committee. “We have a beautiful new building.” 

The former Columbus Elementary was rebuilt from scratch in 1997, one of the most significant and welcomed outcomes of a mid-1990s push to upgrade the Berkeley Unified School District’s aging building stock with special bond issues. Once the paint was dry on the state-of-the-art, angular orange and deep blue structure, a movement arose in the school community to reconsider the school’s name. 

Berkeley had already renamed Columbus Day as “Indigenous People’s Day” in honor of the West Indies residents who had little cause to celebrate in the tragic period of disease, death, and exploitation that followed Columbus’ 1492 arrival. 

In March, Rosa Parks won out over labor leader Cesar Chavez in a mini-referendum for the school’s name. 

“Now we have a name that was chosen by the community,” said Herman.