In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch tells his children that you can’t understand a person “until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
That’s what Roman Gladney, a 6-foot-plus senior from Fairfield Preparatory High School, and Alex Trulock, a diminutive Mountain Brook High School 10th-grader who says he grew up steeped in racism, are doing as their schools put on a joint dramatization of the novel that earned them a rare meeting with the book’s author, Nelle Harper Lee.
“I feel like we’re kind of changing stuff and taking a step,” said Trulock, whom Lee hugged and pulled down to sit beside her as she shook hands before receiving the Birmingham Pledge Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “I think most of the people in Mountain Brook have barely ever talked to a black person, and it’s not healthy.”
Pat Yates, the Mountain Brook drama teacher who designed the joint production, said that’s the goal of the project.
“This whole thing is an exercise in empathy,” she said. “It’s putting these groups of students together from two different communities and seeing things from those two perspectives.”
Yates has wanted to put on “Mockingbird” for a decade, but felt it wouldn’t be right to cast it out of Mountain Brook’s student body, which is almost entirely white. So when she met Patsy Howze, Fairfield’s choir director, at a workshop, she suggested a joint production.
All about learning:
Fairfield jumped at the chance to let its students—who have no drama department or even an auditorium—try drama. But it also gives students at the all-black school a chance to experience another culture, Howze said.
But the grand prize was the invitation to meet Lee.
“Oh my God, it was like I was meeting the president of the United States,” said Gladney, who got a hug from Lee and an autograph before the author’s escorts asked other visitors not to request autographs. He said he asked Lee about the Tom Robinson character, and she said he was “a man with pride.”