- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Long before the Freedom Schooner Amistad sailed into the Potomac as part of this year's National Cherry Blossom Festival, Shadonna Washington had studied the history surrounding La Amistad, the Spanish cargo schooner taken over in mutiny in 1839 by 53 enslaved Africans who later were held in jail in New Haven, Conn., on murder charges.
Now, Shadonna, a sixth-grader at Lucy Moten Elementary School in Southeast, has the chance to enter a contest and win a $500 savings bond for writing an essay or creating a poster based on the theme "My Visit to the Amistad: What It Meant to Me."
"I'm going to submit both a poster and an essay I'm refining my essay now, but I've already completed my poster. It's mixed-media. I used pencils, markers and crayons. I've drawn the Amistad ship with the sun in the background," says Shadonna, 11.
In large letters, Shadonna says, she printed a banner headline on her work of art that reads: "Quest for Freedom."
"The Amistad represents both enslavement and determination," Shadonna says.
"The Africans were brought here against their will. [To me] the Amistad represents the power of determination and how the Africans were able to win their freedom."
The 53 Africans had been kidnapped and sold into the Spanish slave trade, then loaded aboard a Spanish vessel and sent to Havana, where they were loaded aboard the Amistad for a voyage to another part of Cuba. Three days into the voyage, the slaves revolted. They eventually were freed after successful arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court by former President John Quincy Adams. The story of the revolt, arrest, trial and release of the passengers became the focus of the 1997 movie "Amistad," directed by Steven Spielberg.
The essay and poster competition is open to all D.C. public school students in grades four through 12 and is being sponsored by the D.C. Lottery & Charitable Games Control Board and Riggs Bank. A total of 18 prizes will be awarded later this spring, and the winners will be announced the week of June 3.
Roceal Duke, content specialist for social studies for D.C. public schools, says she expects a barrage of entries. Roughly 4,000 D.C. students visited the Freedom Schooner Amistad, which docked at the Southwest waterfront on March 23. The tall ship departed April 7 for its voyage home to Long Wharf in New Haven, Conn.
Mrs. Duke and Paula Sanderlin Dorosti, the school system's visual content specialist, teamed up with the D.C. Lottery's communications specialist, Gwen Cleveland, who came up with the idea for the project, to determine the rules for the contest.
Mrs. Duke, a former social studies teacher, says the deadline for essay and poster submissions is noon April 26. The delivery of entries will be coordinated by social studies teachers at the schools.
Mrs. Duke says she couldn't be happier about the students' enthusiasm and the unwavering support from teachers, who got the children interested early.
The Amistad project was a priority as far back as January, Mrs. Duke says. Students discussed the Amistad incident in classes, they researched the subject, and they read books such as "Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom," by Walter Dean Myers. At Moten Elementary School, 12 students worked on a quilt project to immerse themselves in the Amistad revolt before their field trip to the tall ship.
"The contest helps students to put [the Amistad incident] in another format venue with all of the information they have learned. Our students have different learning styles, and we want them to be able to express themselves in the most positive way possible. You never know what stimulates a student to read more. Writing an essay or making a poster might be just what motivates a child to excel," Mrs. Duke says.
"And the awards will encourage them to do more and participate more. Everyone cannot win, but they're all winners since they had the courage to submit their work."
Last week, the gregarious Shadonna and schoolmates Diamond Ransome, 10, and Christina Spruiell, 11, toured the 129-foot tall ship with Wanda Aikens, a coordinator with the Moten Partnership Program.
Because the group had researched and studied the Amistad incident at length in classes, they were eager to see the ship firsthand and get to work on their essays and posters.
"I'm looking forward to going on the ship," said soft-spoken Diamond, a fifth-grader at Moten. She stood in line on a sunny but cold morning to get her chance to board the ship.
"When I go aboard, I want to feel what an enslaved person felt I want to put myself in their position right then and there. I want to personalize this experience," Diamond said.
Christina, a sixth-grader at Moten, says she definitely plans to enter the contest. She's submitting a poster made with colored markers and crayons. It's vibrant and colorful, she says. Her artistic composition also includes a rainbow in the background that towers high above the ship. There's a reason for the rainbow, Christina says.
"Rainbows represent destinations, faith and hope," she explains.
During the ship's two-week stay at the Southwest waterfront, thousands of schoolchildren from the District, Maryland and Virginia got aboard the $3.5 million re-creation of La Amistad.
The Freedom Schooner Amistad was invited to the city by the National Maritime Heritage Foundation in Northeast in conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Amistad "crew members" conducted short lectures about the ship on its deck. Students also got to see etchings of two of the four children who were enslaved on the vessel: Margu, 8 and Kale, 11.
The crew explained to the groups of students that Margu went onto graduate from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and Kale learned to read and write in three months. The little boy penned the eloquent letter to Adams that inspired him to take the slaves' case.
"I think it was wrong for the Africans to be jailed for defending themselves," says Jamya Wilkins, a fifth-grader who attends Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Northwest.
Like many of the other students and visitors to the ship, Jamya, 12, waited patiently for her turn to go aboard the Amistad with her classmates. The entire Amistad incident enraged her, she says, but she was happy the Africans defended themselves.
"I'm going to write an essay it was surprising [to me] that they fought back," Jamya says.

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