Article
JOHNNY MELTON/OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY/GETTY IMAGES
Can Kids Change the World?

Long ago, some brave kids tried to make their community better. Did it work?

By Laine Falk
From the February 2021 Issue
Lexiles: 540L
Guided Reading Level: M
DRA Level: 20-24
Vocabulary: community, segregated, training, nonviolence, sit-in, integrate, determined, voice
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Think and Read

As you read, think about the problem in Ayanna’s community. How did she help make it better?

It all started with a trip.

The year was 1958. A little girl named Ayanna Najuma was 7 years old. She and 19 other kids went on a trip far from their home in Oklahoma. They went up north to New York City.

In New York, the kids noticed something. White people and African American people could use the same water fountains. They could eat in the same restaurants. They could even sleep next door to each other in hotels.

It was 1958. Ayanna Najuma was 7 years old. She lived in Oklahoma. She and her friends went on a trip up north to New York City.

They noticed something. In New York, white people and African American people could do the same things.

It all started with a trip.

The year was 1958 and a little girl named Ayanna Najuma was 7 years old. She and 19 other kids went on an important trip far from their home in Oklahoma. They went up north to New York City.

In New York, the kids noticed that white people and African American people could use the same water fountains. They could eat in the same restaurants, and they could even sleep next door to each other in hotels.


Jim McMahon

That may not sound strange to you. But it was strange to Ayanna and her friends. They were African American kids from the South. At that time, the southern part of our country was segregated. That means that African American people and white people were kept apart.

In Oklahoma City, where the kids lived, water fountains had signs that said, “Whites Only.” African American kids and white kids couldn’t go to school together. They couldn’t eat in the same restaurants.

The kids were amazed at how different New York City was from the South. When they got back to Oklahoma, they said, “Why do we have to live this way?”

They knew the way their community was set up was wrong. White people had more rights than African American people.

The kids made a plan to fix things. But would it work?

It was strange to them. Ayanna and her friends were African American kids from the South. The South was segregated. That means that African American people and white people were kept apart.

In the South, African American and white kids couldn’t go to school together. They couldn’t eat at restaurants together. It wasn’t allowed.

The kids were amazed. New York City was different.

They knew the way their community was set up was wrong.

The kids made a plan to fix things.

That may not sound strange to you, but it was strange to Ayanna and her friends. They were African American kids from the South. At that time, the southern part of our country was segregated, meaning that African American people and white people were kept apart.

In Oklahoma City, where the kids lived, water fountains had signs that said “Whites Only.” African American kids and white kids couldn’t go to school together, and they couldn’t dine in the same restaurants.

The kids were amazed at how different New York City was from the South. When they got back to Oklahoma, they said, “Why do we have to live this way?”

They knew the way their community was set up was wrong. It was unfair that white people had more rights than African American people.

The kids started to make a plan to fix things. But would they succeed?


Training for a Sit-In

Training for a Sit-In

Training for a Sit-In


The kids decided to get the restaurants to change so that African American people were allowed to eat in them.

It could be dangerous to try to do that. Many people would be angry. But the kids were brave. They planned a sit-in.

At a sit-in, you sit in a restaurant and ask to be served. You don’t leave until you are served. It’s a peaceful way to change something that is unfair.

The kids went into training with a group of African American adults. In training, these adults taught the kids about nonviolence. They taught them about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Many people didn’t want African American people to eat in a whites-only restaurant. The kids learned that people would be unkind.

The kids learned that they had to stay calm and be peaceful no matter how badly others behaved.

In training, the adults yelled at the kids. They threw water on them. The kids practiced being calm and not yelling back.

Soon, they were ready to do their first sit-in.

The kids wanted the restaurants in their town to change. They wanted everyone to be able to eat together.

Trying to change things could be dangerous. But the kids were brave. They planned a sit-in.

At a sit-in, you sit in a restaurant. You ask to be served food. You stay until you are served.

Adults taught the kids about nonviolence. They taught them how to stay calm. They taught them about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The kids decided to get the restaurants to change so that African American people were allowed to eat in them.

It could be dangerous to try to do that and it would anger many people. But the kids were brave. They planned a sit-in.

At a sit-in, you sit in a restaurant and ask to be served. You don’t leave the restaurant until you are served. It’s a peaceful way to change something that is unfair.

The kids went into training with a group of African American adults. In training, these adults taught the kids about nonviolence and about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s methods of peaceful protest.

Many people didn’t want African American people to eat in a whites-only restaurant. The kids learned that people would be unkind.

The kids learned that they had to stay calm and be peaceful, no matter how badly others behaved.

In training, the adults yelled at the kids and threw water on them. The kids practiced being calm and not yelling back.

Soon, they were ready to do their first sit-in.


BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

Here are the kids at the Katz Lunch Counter in 1958.

The Sit-Ins Begin

The Sit-Ins Begin

The Sit-Ins Begin


The kids’ first sit-in was at the Katz Lunch Counter. It was a whites-only restaurant. Ayanna went with about 12 other kids.

They all wore their best clothes. They went in and sat down. They were polite. Ayanna asked for a hamburger and a Coke.

The waitress said, “No.”

The other customers were angry. They didn’t like that African American kids were trying to change the restaurant. They did not want it to be integrated so that everyone was allowed to eat there.

The other customers yelled at the kids. They poured ketchup and coffee on them.

Ayanna says, “I wasn’t scared. I knew I was doing the right thing.”

The kids didn’t yell. They didn’t fight. They sat quietly and talked with each other. They had brought magazines and coloring books.

At the end of the day, the restaurant closed. The kids had to go.

The next day, they went back. They ordered food again. No one gave it to them. But they were not going to give up! They were determined.

On the third day, the kids ordered food. This time, the waitress brought it to them!

From that day on, the Katz Lunch Counter was integrated! Anyone could eat there.

The kids were so happy. They had made one place in their community better.

Ayanna had learned something. She says, “I was little, but my voice was just as important as everyone else’s voice.”

The kids went to the Katz Lunch Counter.

They went in and sat down. They were polite. They asked for food.

The waitress said, “No.”

The other customers were angry. Customers yelled at the kids.

The kids didn’t yell. They didn’t fight.

At the end of the day, the kids had to go.

They went back the next day. They ordered food again.

No one gave it to them.

On the third day, the kids ordered food. This time, the waitress brought it to them!

From that day on, anyone could eat at the Katz Lunch Counter.

The kids’ first sit-in was at the Katz Lunch Counter, a whites-only restaurant. Ayanna went with about 12 other kids.

They all wore their best clothes, went in, and sat down. They were polite. Ayanna ordered a hamburger and a Coke.

The waitress said, “No.”

The other customers were angry. They were upset that African American kids were trying to change the restaurant. They did not want it to be integrated so that everyone was allowed to eat there.

The other customers yelled at the kids, and some even poured ketchup and coffee on them.

Ayanna says, “I wasn’t scared. I knew I was doing the right thing.”

The kids didn’t yell, and they didn’t fight. They sat quietly and talked with each other. They had even brought magazines and coloring books to pass the time.

At the end of the day, the restaurant closed and the kids had to go.

The next day, they went back and ordered food again.

No one gave it to them. But they were not going to give up! They were determined.

On the third day, the kids placed an order for food again. This time, the waitress served them!

From that day on, the Katz Lunch Counter was integrated! Anyone could eat there.

The kids were so happy. They had worked to make one place in their community better.

Ayanna had learned something. She says, “I was little, but my voice was just as important as everyone else’s voice.”


FRANCIS MITCHELL/COURTESY JOHNSON PUBLISHING COMPANY, LLC, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

People took away the chairs so the kids couldn’t sit down. Ayanna’s sister Lana stood.

The Kids Keep Working

The Kids Keep Working

The Kids Keep Working


COURTESY OF AYANNA NAJUMA

But their work wasn’t done. So many restaurants in their community were segregated.

Over the next six years, the kids did sit-ins at many restaurants. More and more kids joined each time.

The restaurant owners got pretty clever about trying to keep the kids away. At one restaurant, workers took away all the chairs. There was no place to sit.

But would that stop the kids? No. Ayanna’s little sister Lana had the right idea. When she didn’t have a chair to sit on, she just leaned on the table.

In most places, people wouldn’t let the kids use the bathroom. That wasn’t going to stop the kids either.

One by one, the kids integrated the restaurants in their town. The kids had changed their city.

One small group of kids had made their community better for everyone.

They may have been little, but their voices were huge.

But their work wasn’t done. There were more segregated restaurants. The kids did many more sit-ins. They changed the restaurants in their town.

One small group of kids had made their community better and fairer.

But the kids’ work wasn’t done. There were still many restaurants in their community that were segregated.

Over the next six years, the kids continued to do sit-ins at many restaurants. More and more kids joined each time.

The restaurant owners got pretty clever about trying to keep the kids away. At one restaurant, workers took away all the chairs so that there was no place to sit.

But would that stop the kids? No. Ayanna’s little sister Lana had a creative idea. If she didn’t have a chair to sit on, she just leaned on a table.

In most places, people wouldn’t let the kids use the bathroom, but that wasn’t going to stop them either.

One by one, the kids integrated the restaurants in their town. The kids had changed their city.

One small group of kids had made their community better for everyone.

They may have been little, but their voices were huge.


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More About the Article

Social Studies Focus

Community; Famous figures in American history; Black history; Civil rights

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. BEFORE READING

Show "The Big Question" Video (10 minutes)

“The Big Question: What Makes a Community?” (This video also goes with other stories in this month’s Storyworks 2.)

  • Before your students watch, ask them to think about: What makes a community?
  • Watch the video.
  • After watching, ask the question again. Write students’ ideas on chart paper.

Read About the Civil Rights Movement (10 minutes)

  • Read our Words & Pictures article, “A Time of Change,” (pages 4-5) to provide students with some background knowledge on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Preview Vocabulary (3-15 minutes)

  • Play the online vocabulary slideshow. This article’s featured words are community, segregated, training, nonviolence, sit-in, integrate, determined, and voice.

Preview the First Pages and Set a Purpose for Reading (5-10 minutes)

  • Now tell students they are going to read a nonfiction article. Tell them it connects to the video they watched about community.
  • Open your magazines to “Can Kids Change the World?” Preview the text features on the opening pages.
  • Ask, “Is this article about kids from the present or from the past?” (past)
  • Next, read the Think and Read prompt on page 7: “As you read, think about the problem in Ayanna’s community. How did she help make it better?” Encourage children to think about this prompt as they read.

2. READ THE ISSUE

Read Together (15-30 minutes)

  • You can read this article together as a class or in small groups.
  • Check comprehension as you read the issue together with the Pause and Think questions.
  • Build reading stamina: Play our Video Read-Aloud feature. Kids can hear the issue read aloud and see the imagery come to life. This is especially helpful for giving lower-level readers the same access to the story as their classmates.

3. AFTER READING: FOCUS ON ELA SKILLS

Assessment: Quiz (10 minutes)

ELA Focus: Vocabulary (20 minutes)

  • Use the Word Work printable to deepen students’ understanding of the article’s vocabulary words.

ELA Focus: Letter Writing (20 minutes)

  • Use the “Letter to Ayanna” printable. Kids will write a letter to Ayanna, thanking her for the brave work she did as a kid.
  • You can send their letters to Ayanna at ihaveavoicenow2@gmail.com.

Enrich the Learning: Paired Text Opportunities (time amount varies)

Making text-to-text connections builds knowledge and comprehension.

Paired Text Words & Pictures: “A Time of Change” (pages 4-5)

  • Use our Two Different Texts printable to give kids practice comparing the short nonfiction piece with this article.

Additional Pairable TextsWhich Team Would You Want to Join?” (pages 18-21) and “The Time Capsule” (pages 24-29)

  • These stories ask questions similar to those posed in the Big Read: What makes a community? Does everyone feel included in a community?
  • Kids can compare the communities in the three stories using our “Community Chart” online printable. How are the communities alike and how are they different?
  • Practice writing with our “What Makes a Good Community?” page. This page is an amazing way to finish the lesson about communities. Kids can choose one of the articles about communities, synthesize what they learned, and write what makes a good community.

Additional Notes

  • Scholastic style is to use both the terms African American and Black. Ayanna’s preference was that we use African American in the Big Read nonfiction article about her. We use both terms in this magazine.
  • Ayanna also thought that kids might benefit from learning about Mohandas Gandhi. When Ayanna was in training to do sit-ins as a child, the kids learned about Gandhi and his philosophy of nonviolence. Dr. King’s ideas about nonviolence owed a lot to Gandhi.
  • The kids learned that Gandhi was able to make huge changes in his country of India with nonviolent, peaceful action.

Challenge From Ayanna Najuma

  • Ayanna has a challenge for kids: If you could think of one problem in the world, what would it be? What would be your solution?
  • We created a skills page for this challenge. Kids should work in small groups to answer the questions. Each group can take a group photo or make a drawing of their team.
  • You can send the kids’ work to Ayanna at: ihaveavoicenow2@gmail.com
  • Teachers: If you would like to set up a time for your school or class to talk to Ayanna Najuma, email her at ihaveavoicenow2@gmail.com.