Bernadette Lucas, a 4th grader at LaSalle Elementary School, stood up during a school assembly yesterday and stared at the seven black persons on the auditorium stage: an all-star basketball player, the mayor's wife, a disc jockey, an international economist, a pilot, a bank official and a museum,s program director.
"Can I come up on stage right now," said the little girl in the yellow sweater, "and get all your autographs before I have a heart attack?"
Lucas got every last autograph -- Bullet forward Bobby Dandridge's, First Lady Effi Barry's WHUR-FM disc jockey Melvin Lindsey's, Commerce Department economist Cheryl McQueen's, Federal Aviation Administration "executive pilot" Chuck Dobson's, American Security Bank vice president W. Gary Fleming Jr.'s and Museum of African Art program director Aminia Dickerson's
These luminaries had been assembled for a program called "Today's Leaders," designed "to give the children an awareness of outstanding personalities and careers," according to 2nd grade teacher Margaret Felkner. Almost all of the students were black, and the idea, said Felkner, was to encourage them to aspire to the high levels of success achieved by the black men and women on the stage.
The students, however, were more interested in what it was like to be famous.
"How does it feel when you go to the store and people recognize you," a student asked Effi Barry.
"I'm surprised," said Barry."... I still consider myself to be Effi Barry, not someone famous. "
Bobby Dandridge who was asked the first three questions and most of the questions after that, told the students he knew what he wanted to be when he was 12: "When I heard some guys made $90 playing one game, I knew what I wanted to be."
The FAA's Dobson recalled that he had attended Logan Elementary, Terell Junior High and Dunbar Senior High, all District public schools -- "and I always reminded myself that it's a long way from 3rd and G to a $3.5 million jet."
Banker Fleming told the students that, when he was their age, black children did not consider business careers. "... The only way a black person got into business was if he got a little money together and opened a corner store or maybe a liquor store," said Fleming. "You have to realize that you don't have that problem because the opportunities are there for you."
Lindsey, the WHUR disc jockey, said the secret of success was to work hard at everything, including schoolwork, "because you can never tell who is watching you or who could be of help to you later in life."