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Posted: February 25, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Connecting across the Atlantic

Social Circle students learn about America’s African connections

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Peggy Murrah, left, explains to students about the function and origin of some of the objects she brought back from Sierra Leone, on display with the exhibit.

 Social Circle Middle and High School students didn’t have to travel far to view a special exhibit from Kennesaw State University. SCMHS was one of the few privileged to host the "Bunce Island: Linking the History of Europe, Africa, and the United States" traveling display, as part of Black History Month educational activities.

 The exhibit, a series of panels with information and pictures about Bunce Island in Sierra Leone, a British slave castle and point of departure for slave traders in the 18th Century, and its connections to the United Kingdom and the southeastern United States, was on loan from the university as part of a special workshop that teachers from the middle and high school attended on Feb. 5 and 6.

 At the workshop, the teachers learned about Bunce Island, the slave trade, and the United States’ cultural and historical ties to Sierra Leone and West Africa — ties many of the teachers and students never knew existed.

 "A lot of times, when you think about black history, a lot of people think it’s only something African Americans can identify with," said Dr. Juanasha Watkins, the middle school counselor. "Well through this process, you can understand that it’s not the case."

 Peggy Murray, a Social Circle educator and president of the Friends of Sierra Leone a non-profit dedicated to supporting Sierra Leone, described discovering the connection when she went to Sierra Leone in the ‘70s as a Peace Corps volunteer.

 "Having grown up in Georgia, there was so much of my culture that I had never attributed to West Africa. It never dawned on me. Something as basic as our diet. Growing up in the South we ate rice at least three times a week, and okra. You assume that’s from your white heritage. Well, no it’s not. It has nothing to do with Europe. You go to Sierra Leone and you go 'Wow, this is all familiar to me,'" Murrah said. "The food the geography; there were times I could have just as easily been in the woods of Georgia."

 All during last week, classes of middle and high school students discussed the slave trade in their social studies classes and incorporated the exhibit into their lessons.

 Learning about Sierra Leone is nothing new for the students of SCMHS, who have been treated to talks from academics such as Joseph Opala, one of the researchers behind the exhibit, and a visitor from Sierra Leone. The school also supports and follows the progress of a number of students in Sierra Leone by sending money for their schooling.

 "At first I kept thinking this might be too overwhelming to our students," Watkins said. "But because of the legwork that was done on the front end, it’s like we’re building on something.

 "It gives African Americans and Caucasian students a better view of the process."

 She added that students were able to better appreciate the privilege of being able to go to school by learning about people who might not have such opportunities.

 The exhibit was taken down Friday to move on to the next school.

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