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Playing For Keeps Games Teach Kids Equality At King Center

Tue., Jan. 14, 1997, midnight

Words such as “segregation” and “racism” usually don’t make it into a 5-yearold’s vocabulary.

But at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center, the words - and ideas - are part of everyday life.

“Fight segregation now,” sang a group of 15 preschoolers Monday morning. “Freedom is coming and it won’t be long.”

The 4- and 5-year-olds stood tall on a rainbow-colored rug, hands moving quickly in sign language, high-pitched voices practically belting the words.

Most don’t understand the lyrics, acknowledged their teacher, Talibah Adeeba. But by the end of the year, “they slowly sink in and make sense.”

“The most important thing for them to learn is that everyone’s the same,” said Adeeba, who was hired by the center a year ago. “We’re all individuals, of course, but no one’s better than another.”

Adeeba, a member of the National Black United Front, a Seattle-based political organization that promotes African-American culture, also wants the children to learn about King and the ideals he lived and died for.

In this classroom - where the Spanish word “Enero” is as prominent as its English counterpart “January,” and where posters include children with red hair, dark faces and almond-shaped eyes - Martin Luther King Day is celebrated year-round.

“Dr. King was a leader,” said 5-year-old Stephon Wilson. “My mom said he had a dream.”

Since concepts such as civil rights and freedom are hard to explain to kids at this age, Adeeba teaches them by playing games.

To learn about segregation, for example, Adeeba divided the class in half - those with purple marks on their hands and those who had green.

The rules were basic: Greens could use the water fountain and purples couldn’t. If a kid with a purple mark tried to use the fountain, he or she was “put in jail” - forced to leave the rainbow-colored carpet area and stand on a purple piece of paper taped to the floor.

“It wasn’t fair,” said 4-year-old Jalleyah Bradley.

To solve the inequality, the kids suggested that those with purple rub the ink from their hands, then cover it up with green.

On Monday, Adeeba used a bag of Tootsie Rolls to teach them about equal rights.

After giving candy to only one person, she asked the class, “Would it be fair if we ate this candy and didn’t share?” “Noooo,” the kids all shouted in unison.

The bottom line for Adeeba is that the kids learn who they are and treat each other with respect.

“I may be poor … My clothes may be different, my face is different, but I am somebody,” the kids chanted in unison, stomping their right foot to the ground. “I must be respected, protected, never rejected, because I am somebody.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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