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Local student to witness
inauguration up close

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Zharia White will get a first-hand view of American history today.

She will be among the eyewitnesses in Washington, D.C., who watch President-elect Barack Obama take the oath of office to become the first-ever African-American President of the United State of America.

The 12-year-old Stockbridge resident, and 17 of her classmates at Ron Clark Academy, an inner city private school in Atlanta, were invited to attend the 2009 Presidential Inauguration. The class of students was made famous last fall, when a video of their class rap song, about the 2008 General Election, was posted on the Internet.

According to White, the rap was created by students and teachers at the academy as a classroom tool. During a discussion about then-presidential candidates U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, the election process, and the issues of the day, White's class decided to put a more entertaining spin on the discussion. The students put their thoughts into words, and set those words to music in the form of a rap song.

"All of our teachers at our school put passion and energy into what they teach," said White, a seventh-grader at the academy. "When we hear music, we really get the flow of it. It's very easy to learn that way."

The academy, which has been open for two years, is the creation of teacher and best-selling author, Ron Clark, and teacher, Kim Bearden.

Online viewers quickly discovered the students' musical interpretation of the 2008 campaigns, when a video of the class performing in front at a Coca-Cola Company Scholars event in Atlanta was posted on the web. To date, the rap video, "You Can Vote However You Like" - inspired by the rap song, "Whatever You Like," by Atlanta rapper Clifford "T.I." Harris - has gotten millions of online views.

Recently, the students wrote two new songs as follow-ups to last fall's Internet hit, called "Dear Obama" and "Hope." For the past several days, the classmates have performed the songs at various inaugural events in and around Washington, D.C., including four inaugural balls.

"We are so excited for this opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., and be a part of history," said academy founder, Ron Clark. "Our students have worked so hard this school year, learning about every political issue that was discussed during the campaign."

According to Clark, students at the academy would regularly debate major issues in the presidential campaigns, from health care, to war in Iraq, to the economy.

"To be in Washington, D.C., and to participate in a weekend of events in honor of the first African-American, U.S. President is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said. "When we received an invitation to perform the song 'Dear Obama,' we knew we had to go."

White said, for her, the trip to Washington, D.C., is merely the icing on the cake in her education over the past two years. "[Clark and Bearden] are both wonderful teachers," she said. "They have passion and interests in learning like the other teachers. He [Clark] said, 'When you do great things, great things come back to you.' And this is it. We're glad we're going to be representing the school, and we're going to be a part of history."

White said she has been following politics more than she ever thought she would. Her favorite subject in school, now, is global studies, which she believes will be helpful later, as she hopes to pursue a career in law and philanthropy.

"It is an inspiration to me," she said. "I believe I can do anything that I want, because he's the first African-American president. I'm still in shock that we're actually even going."

Jillian White, Zharia's mother, is pleased to see that her daughter and her fellow classmates are making a positive impression on the world.

"I think it is truly phenomenal, because our youth get plenty of negative attention," her mother said. "As far as what's going on right now with Zharia, her classmates, and the young people of South Cobb [whose high school marching band was also invited to the inauguration], this definitely shows hope for our young people. And if given the opportunity, they will rise to the occasion."