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Sumter elementary school students learn about Gullah culture

Gullah combines African, European and Native American culture. Anita Singleton-Prather is teaching over 300 students about it at Lemira Elementary's Literacy Night.

SUMTER, S.C. — Elementary school students in Sumter are celebrating a unique part of the states’ culture with their parents tonight. Lemira Elementary School is having its Literacy Night to teach students about the Gullah.

"I want our young students to know you’re not going to be great, you already are. You come from greatness. Greatness is all in you," storyteller and Gullah Geechee scholar Anita Singleton-Prather explains.

She's sharing that message with over 300 students and their families at Lemira. Prather channels her grandmother through a character she's created: Aunt Pearlie Sue. 

"A lot of the characteristics that I have is my grandmother," Prather says.

As Prather explains, Gullah is an ethnic group and culture created by slaves brought to America along the coast of three southern states, including South Carolina.

Gullah combines African, European and Native American culture; and the Gullah still preserve their traditions to this day in small communities in our state. 

"It’s those three major ethnic groups that came together during that time in our history and blended during that horrible time and gave birth to this culture called Gullah," Prather shares. "All of that — the good, the bad and the ugly — that bring us together to celebrate this rich culture that connects us."

With songs, dances and stories, she’s educating the next generation about the Gullah culture that exists. It's a method that music teacher Franklin Moore thinks is useful.

"Most students I believe learn differently," Moore tells me. "Some are hands-on learners, some learn by hearing, others can learn by doing and singing and playing instruments is one of those ways and I believe the more you open up opportunities, the more they’ll learn about not just music, but different cultures."

"One of the worst thing that slavery did to us as people of African descent is make us hate who we are," Prather adds. "And so when we don’t know our identity and we don’t know who we are, then we take on whatever everybody else say we are."

This can help students be confident in their identifies, Prather says, but according to reading coach Tonya Henry, it also helps broaden perspectives.

"When we expose them to different cultures, when we expose them to the African culture, the Hispanic cultures, it allow them to respect each other a little more, it allows them to ask each other questions or read more about other cultures," Henry says. "Promoting literacy through storytelling, it’s a way to engage our students. Usually our students, they hear read alouds and they hear it from their teachers but when we bring someone in new, it engages them, it allows them to see different stories in a whole different light."

Lemira says this is not only an effort to celebrate Gullah, but also to get kids reading to learn more about the world they live in.

"We’re in such a time when people are in such a rage over so many different things and people are so angry and a lot of times they don’t take the time to realize that the person that you think is your enemy — whatever — lots of times they’re saying the same thing you’re saying but because we’re yelling and screaming and we don’t take the time to hear. So storytelling allows us to talk about some things and people don’t have to feel threatened," Prather shares. "Hatred doesn’t do anything but destroy. But love is going to make the difference, and that’s my message."

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