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Theater production reinforces respect for others

"I hate Black History Month," said the African-American middle school male portrayed by Harvard Taylor, one of three CLIMB (Creative Learning Ideas for Mind and Body) Theatre actors in Cheney Middle School Monday morning.

Then he stepped into a soliloquy.

"The teacher says, 'And who can tell us something about Martin Luther King Jr., and the whole class looks at me, like just because I'm Black, and he's Black, I'm supposed to be an expert on him," he said. "I'd like to ask some of my classmates to tell me what they know about George Bush or that Jared guy on the Subway commercials, because they're all White."

He's having difficulty forging a personal identity in his school because he doesn't fit the stereotypical idea of what a young African-American should do or be. He isn't a singer, or an athlete, he isn't in jail and he isn't a civil rights activist.

This was just one of several skits performed during "A-Part," an original CLIMB play.

CLIMB, an organization out of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., has a 31-year history of instruction through plays, interactive classroom activities and professional development workshops for students and administrators. The programs reached about 360,000 students last year alone, reported Peg Wetli, the founder.

The organization works in Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin to educate students in kindergarten through middle school. The shows for younger students include respect and self-control. The middle school skits are about accepting differences and coping with harassment.

This was CLIMB's second year in Cheney.

The production focused on social justice by addressing issues like racial bigotry and the pressure of changing who you are, what you do and who your friends are to achieve middle school social status.

Last year they focused on harassment.

Cheney Middle School Counselor Michelle Weber said these are issues she deals with at Cheney on a daily basis, not unlike other schools. She said the feedback last year was so positive that they were glad to invite the group back this year.

"Seeing it portrayed on the stage helps reinforce what the teachers talk about," she said. "It's good stuff. They bring a problem we deal with, and the kids can actually see what respect looks like."

Taylor, who is in his third year of acting for CLIMB and was in West Fargo for the first time, agreed. "It's important for them to see stuff like this, so they know it's OK to be different," he said.

Fellow actors Erika Crane and Frank Nappi agreed. "I think this one especially is important," Nappi said. "I wish they would have had something like this when I was growing up."

Weber said the CLIMB production was a "nice culminating activity" after staff members spent the month of September explaining to students the District's harassment policies.

"What it boils down to is having respect for others," Webber concluded.

This production was sponsored fully by the Cheney Middle School Parent Teacher Association, Weber said.