|MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Author and musician Mona Golabek is in Montgomery this week as part of a citywide program promoting tolerance through the story of Golabek's mother, who was a Holocaust survivor.
Golabek's message to area students Tuesday during a concert at the Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts was about tolerance, but also about history and hope.
As part of the City-Wide Read Project, all Montgomery Public School ninth-graders have read Golabek's book "The Children of Willesden Lane," and attended or will attend a concert by Golabek this week.
The book chronicles Golabek's mother, Lisa, a Jewish teenage girl from Vienna, Austria, during the Holocaust. Lisa escaped the Nazis to land in London, where she then lived in a Jewish hostel and used music to persevere.
The idea of the City-Wide Read Project is to use that story as a way to talk about tolerance with students and the community as a whole. The project culminated this week when Golabek is in town for four days performing.
"I feel this city has immense history and great lessons to teach all of us," Golabek said before her morning performance Tuesday.
She said this program is likely the most important one she's done because of what Montgomery stands for and what's taken place here.
As people inside and outside the city know, it's a community that has struggled with intolerance and a tumultuous past, serving as the battleground for some of the most important events of the civil rights movement.
"It's too easy for us to forget," she said of the injustices of the past, adding that communities can become apathetic.
But Golabek said for all the progress that has been made it's easy for people to make the same mistakes.
Communities must learn from that past and guard against making the same mistakes again, she said, adding that people should never forget where their ancestors came from and what they faced.
"Be aware of that," she said. "Don't forget."
Her message could not have sounded more powerful from inside the Davis Theatre, which sits just across the street from the Rosa Parks Museum and the spot where Parks refused to give up her seat to boarding white passengers more than 50 years ago.
Golabek said she hoped her message and her mother's story would resonate with the students who attended her performance, saying they might have parents or grandparents who also faced a past rife with strife.
Brenson called Golabek a role model, describing her as someone who accomplished her dreams.
In the darkest of times music will be your strength," Golabek said recalling what her grandmother told her mother during Kristallnacht, a night of coordinated attacks against Jews in Austria and Nazi Germany.
Morgan said that's important for students to see "because a lot of kids make the wrong choices." Golabek's family came from a tragic past, but her mother and her made tough decisions and decided to promote the positive.
Carver teacher Shenika Holmes, who teaches ninth-grade history, said Golabek brought such passion and that it was inspirational for students to see Golabek's mother's story come alive.
"This is wonderful for our students we've never had anything like this before," she said.
Superintendent Barbara Thompson said the event was a first of its kind.
The City-Wide Read Project, announced in January, was a collaboration of several area groups, including the school system, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama.
Thompson said she felt the performance was powerful and poignant, grabbing students attention.
The students in the audience, Thompson said, will be leaders in the future, tasked with making important decisions that impact their own communities and they need to learn about accepting people's differences.
"What a better city when you're talking about respecting people and learning from the mistakes of the past," she said.
Through her performance the room was largely silent as 600 pairs of young eyes peered up at her. On stage, Golabek was cast in a gentle glow from a spotlight that shown on her and her piano on an all-black stage. She played as she narrated her mother's story, often getting up from behind the piano to address the audience directly.
"In the darkest of times music will be your strength," Golabek said recalling what her grandmother told her mother during Kristallnacht, a night of coordinated attacks against Jews in Austria and Nazi Germany.
She told the audience how her grandparents later had to make a decision no parent should have to make: which child to send away and save from peril. She said her grandfather had just one ticket for the Kindertransport, which took Jewish children to London just before the start of World War II.
Golabek described her mother's time in London, the eventual end of the war and her mother's debut as a concert pianist, a bittersweet debut because it could not be heard by her family who did not survive the war. When she finished the room erupted in applause, before Golabek took student questions.
Students asked if there were details she couldn't include in the book, how she felt when her mother shared the stories with her and even about her father.
One ninth-grader asked if Golabek herself would have the courage to do what her grandparents did by saying goodbye to their young daughter in the hope she would be safe, but far from them.
"If it's the way to save your child, you will do it," she said.
The performance was gripping, capturing a story and an important lesson of tolerance for students, but some Tuesday said Golabek also showed hope and described her as a role model.
Carver High School freshmen Deandra Morgan and Tiquisha Brenson both said they were impressed with the performance.
Overview:The Children of Willesden Lane
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