…and if you need some, there are few images as capable of filling the bill as this one. This is, to me, the most inspiring photo from the civil rights era: Richard Avedon’s photo of the Atlanta SNCC staff in 1963 (and a few national leaders), including Julian Bond, Bob Zellner and Dottie Zellner. The focus, the intensity, the righteousness of this group, standing up in the face of American apartheid, reveals the best of the human condition and our potential. Fearless…real American heroes…sadly our history books tell our children little about them. So that becomes our job…
This is how Stella Ehrhart, age 8, decides what to wear for school.
She opens her closet. She opens her book, “100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century.” And she opens her mind.
Voilà, she is Billie Holiday, in a black dress with a red tissue-paper flower tucked into her strawberry-blond hair.
Behold, she is Grace Kelly in pink satin lace on her wedding day.
Poof, she is Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, wearing a hat her aunt got her in Vietnam.
The Dundee Elementary School third-grader comes to school dressed as a different historical figure or character — Every. Single. Day. And she’s done that since the second day of second grade, when this all started.
The budding actress with a social conscience came to school on the first day last year dressed like any other 7-year-old girl, in the outfit her grandpa had bought her: a Love T-shirt and leggings. The following day she was dressed as author Laura Ingalls Wilder.
From that point on, Stella decided that what she would wear to school would represent who she was trying to be. With no repeats, at least through second grade.
Thus began a creative, educational and — for her parents, at least — somewhat exhausting journey.
Stella’s costumes aren’t fluffy, fantastical or even necessarily obvious, which helps because the Omaha Public Schools have a directive saying students’ clothes shouldn’t distract. Her parents, teachers and principal recognize that ego isn’t behind the every day dress-up. A brain at work is.
So they try to support her desire for self-expression. Teachers, in fact, embrace it and have used Stella’s outfits du jour as teachable moments.
“We’d have to get on the computer and figure out who she was,” said her second-grade teacher, Shannon Roeder, who keeps a picture of an overtly costumed Stella (it was Halloween) hanging in her classroom. In the picture, Stella poses in front of Roeder’s bumper-sticker-plastered Prius, its license plate reading “ENDWAR,” wearing a cardboard car cutout also plastered in bumper stickers, with the same vanity plate.
Stella’s costumes prompt classroom discussion, some copycatting and further creativity. When she dressed as Rosa Parks, she and her classmates devised a play and designated different people as the bus driver and other bus passengers.
On Monday, she sat in her Joan Baez “costume,” which was a military-green fitted half-blazer over a patterned blouse with black slacks and cowboy boots. She looked like any other third-grader, head bent over some bellwork — math and grammar exercises that at times had her stumped.
Teacher Shari Smith patiently explained to Joan Baez how to make the plural forms of nouns such as “calf” and “wolf.”
“There are times I even forget,” the teacher said of Stella’s blend-in costume. “It’s not an attention-getter ‘Look at me.’””