Courtesy BEN WEINBERG

I recently had the pleasure of chaperoning the Brooks Middle School’s BRAVO trip to Atlanta for the 2012 Junior Theater Festival. When we left Midway Airport in the middle of a snowstorm, none of us could have imagined how profoundly memorable the trip would turn out to be.

Under the magnificent leadership of Tina Reynolds and her team (Michael Jones, Cameron Burgess and Lisa Morrow), the BRAVO cast and crew were outstanding ambassadors for Brooks, District 97, and Oak Park. Ms. Reynolds insists that the kids treat the festival as a “business trip,” and they took that to heart and performed and behaved beautifully.

For the third year in a row, BRAVO’s production — this year it was Schoolhouse Rock, Jr. — was recognized as an outstanding production among 2,750 performers from 65 schools and theater groups. A highlight of the adjudication was when one of the judges — an accomplished Broadway director — praised the kids to the rafters and remarked that he was particularly moved by how the skillful performers seemed like a family and performed “as one.”

In addition, BRAVO premiered a new version of the classic musical Finian’s Rainbow. That performance was so impressive, the festival organizers requested that the cast make a special appearance in order to show the producers of the upcoming NBC show, SMASH, just how great a middle school production could be. If that were not enough, the BRAVO boys were featured in a large group number from a new musical called Newsies. Our boys choreographed the number. Then they taught it to a group of 40 or so boys from other schools. And then they performed it before an audience of approximately 3,000.

There was even more. Although the festival ended on Sunday evening, our flight was not scheduled to leave until Monday afternoon. As a result, we planned a visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in honor of Dr. King’s birthday. We woke the kids up early and headed out to Auburn Avenue. The kids were well behaved and appropriately interested — and even moved at the King tomb and eternal flame.

Shortly before we were ready to leave for lunch and the airport, we gave the kids some free time to relax. They formed a large circle and began playing two games that they had enjoyed at the festival. Both involved holding hands, laughing, singing and/or dancing.

As they played, passersby stopped to watch. At first, I thought it was just because the kids are so entertaining. But then someone stopped me to ask if their games were part of the King display. I hadn’t even noticed that our lovely, talented group was literally living out Dr. King’s dream on the red hills of Georgia. It was a wonderfully diverse group of African-American, white, Hispanic and Asian children walking together as sisters and brothers.

It was a powerful (and tearful) moment. And one we all will never forget.

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