Off-Broadway Production Provides Living History Lesson at Harris Elementary


History and art converged to give students at Harris Elementary an unforgettable lesson on the Tuskegee Airmen.

Two actors from Black Angels Over Tuskegee performed an excerpt from this Off-Broadway production for fourth and fifth grade students in the Harris Elementary cafeteria. Written and directed by Louisiana native Layon Gray, this historical docudrama follows six men embarking on a journey to become aviators during a tumultuous era of racial segregation. Gray and his cast are in New Orleans for three performances (February 19,20,21) at the National WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen.

“They’ve been really immersed in it and they’ve learned about looking at history as a historian and using their language arts skills,” said Harris Elementary Librarian and Media Specialist Dr. Betsy Almerico, who helped bring the event to the school. “So, it’s been very beneficial.”

The special visit came about after a group of Harris students took a field trip to the National WWII Museum exhibit Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII.

“When the students came back, they each wrote a thank you card to the museum,” said Almerico. “They expressed their thanks for giving them this experience and pointing out what they liked best, from the planes to getting to create their own newspaper.”

That kind gesture put Harris at the top of the list when museum officials were looking for a school to visit. Actors David Roberts and Lamar Cheston visited Harris, along with Gray. Roberts and Cheston performed scenes from their show. All three men then answered student questions, which ranged from what it’s like performing onstage to how much respect they hold for the actual Tuskegee Airmen.

“Those veterans had this heavy burden to carry and I think these students need to see it,” said Almerico. “It’s 70 years later and they should realize the steps that have been taken and what their responsibility is to carry things out, to be the best kind of man or woman they can be.”