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May 27, 1988 - Image 90

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-27

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Laval Brown is
on a one-man
mission teaching
Detroit schoolchildren
about Israel
and the Mideast-



News Editor

Cassandra Langley, left, and Brown's daughter, Latrina, review a story.




omewhere along the road
to becoming an inter-
preter for the. State De-
partment, Laval Brown
took a detour. His mission
changed, at least temporarily, from
studying for that post to promoting
peace and understanding between
cultures. He decided to start with
black elementary schoolchildren.
A part-time teacher at Ilene
Elementary School in Detroit, Brown
said he felt that black children
weren't getting enough education
about other cultures. A student of
languages — he's working on a degree
at Wayne State University — Brown
gave himself an assignment to teach
the children Hebrew and about Israel.
At first, Brown was met by opposi-
tion from other teachers at the school,
when he really expected the parents
to be upset because everything they
knew about Israel they were getting
from the nightly TV newscasts. (Any
knowledge the children had about
Israel they learned from the Bible, he
said.) But, when the parents saw how
excited the children were about learn-
ing Hebrew, they were supportive of
the class. From that point, Brown ex-
plains, "it's been positive," and now
20 third through fifth graders are
benefitting from his enthusiasm.
How this black part-time teacher
and university student came to teach
Hebrew makes for an unusual tale.
Brown's original professional in-
tention was to become an interpreter
for the U.S. government. In prepara-
tion for this job, he studied Russian
and Cantonese. He picked these

languages because "I wanted to take
up something different. I wanted to
study cultures that weren't well
known here in the States:' Yet, lear-
ning these two difficult languages
wasn't enough. Because of his love for
history, Brown said, he also felt a
need to study Hebrew as well.
He got involved in Hebrew study
through a connection he made while
an employee at Sinai Hospital. A doc-
tor on staff at Sinai had heard about
Brown's interest in learning Hebrew
and knew that one of the hospital's
volunteers,Jonas Segal, would be able
to teach Brown. The doctor brought
Segal, a retired Wayne State Univer-
sity and Cass Thch instructor, and
Brown together and the pupil-teacher
relationship was well under way. "He
was a very apt pupil," Segal recalled.
"He has a flair for languages. He was
progressing nicely?'
To give Brown a taste of native
Hebrew, Segal took him on a per-
sonalized visit to Israel. "Jonas
thought it was a good idea for me to
go to Israel and see it first-hand,"
Brown explained. He had expected to
see terrorists and bombs flying
overhead, but soon realized that was
not the case. While in Israel, Brown
was introduced to kibbutzim, mosh-
avim, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and sabras.
What he found most remarkable was
the Israeli children's desire for
Brown said the children had never
seen a black man before and pelted
him with questions. He laughed as he
remembered the children asking him
if he could play basketball and break
dance. It was their impression that all
blacks could do both. He disappointed
them; he didn't do very well at either.

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