My best assembly - Love, live and direct

17th October 2008 at 01:00
In Black History Month, who better to highlight than inspiring musician and campaigner Bob Marley? David Rosenberg reports

Let's face it, primary children and teachers inhabit different cultural worlds. We want to keep up with their computer games, music and cartoons, but we're rarely on the same wavelength.

Some individuals can bridge this chasm. There are people we adults admire who have entered children's consciousness and moved them, such as my first true love, Bob Marley, whose image is permanently displayed in my classroom. My Bob Marley assembly is perfect for Black History Month. When I presented it a few years ago, the children filed into the hall to the sounds of "One Love". Behind me stood posters and flags from my Marley memorabilia collection (one flag delicately folded to obscure a certain plant gracing its borders).

The children recognised the singer. Playing excerpts from songs and quoting from interviews, I told them why Marley was so important to me, and should be to them. For the next 20 minutes, the children hung on every word, animatedly joining in with songs they knew.

If we want Black History Month to enable all children to see black experience as their own, then Marley, son of a white father and black mother, from a Jamaican mountain home, is the perfect vehicle. Unlike self-referential songwriters, Marley's songs, I explained, had universal messages. A poet describing what he could see and feel, he was also a prophet.

I recalled his childhood, his first job, as a welder, and his first recording aged 17. The children loved a description from a Marley biography: "He looked like a skinny lion, moved like a spider and lived like a ghost".

Marley railed against injustice. I played "Dem belly full but we hungry", and described how he wanted to comfort people suffering poverty and urge them to challenge their situation. They joined in the chorus of "Get up, stand up" and listened carefully to "Revolution", with its promise that the poor and the weak will achieve equality.

Between songs I quoted from a Marley interview: "My life only has meaning if I can help plenty people," and from another one, urging people not to stand by but to act when they witness unfairness: "I don't have to suffer to be aware of suffering."

I used my favourite Bob Marley track "Redemption Song", with its iconic lyric, "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds", to define the words slavery, emancipation and freedom.

I finished with my memory of watching Marley perform live in July 1980. Two months later he was in hospital fighting for his life. He died in 1981 aged 36. I told the children that the way they had listened and responded during the assembly proved to me that his words were still alive.

I rounded off by reprising "One Love". The children joined in, spontaneously swaying, wrapping their arms around each other, embodying Marley's messages.

David Rosenberg is Every Child Matters manager at Hanover Primary School in Islington, London.

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