Ayanna the Brave

Across the South in the 1950s, Black people weren’t allowed to go to the same places as White people. But 7-year-old Ayanna Najuma knew that was wrong. Here’s how she and a fearless group of kids fought for their rights—and won

By Spencer Kayden
From the February 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will read about and analyze the character of Ayanna Najuma and her friends, a group of children who fought for civil rights in their city.

Guided Reading Level: U
DRA Level: 50

A changemaker is a person who sees a problem and figures out a way to fix it. How is Ayanna a changemaker in this play?

 August 1958, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

N1: Seven-year-old Ayanna and a group of Black kids peek through the window of Katz Drug Store. Mrs. Luper is with them.

N2: Inside, some customers are shopping. Others are sitting at a long lunch counter.

N3: Everyone at the counter is White.

N1: Ayanna grabs Barbara’s hand.

Ayanna: Are we really going to do this?

Barbara: Yes. We have a right to sit at that lunch counter, just like anyone else.

Calvin: I’m nervous.

Mrs. Luper: Remember, whatever happens, you do not fight back. You don’t even talk back.

Ayanna: I’m ready.

N2: Barbara opens the door. Ayanna takes a deep breath and follows her inside.

N3: They walk to the lunch counter and sit down. The room goes silent.

May 1957, on a bus

N1: Fifteen months earlier, Ayanna and the same group are on a trip to New York City.

N2: The children are members of the Youth Council, a group of young Black people who believe in equality for everyone.

N3: Ayanna stares wide-eyed out the window.

Ayanna: I’ve never left Oklahoma before.

Calvin: Me neither!

Mrs. Luper: You’re going to experience a lot of interesting things on this trip.

Ayanna: Like what?

Mrs. Luper: Well, our hotel in New York City will have both Black people and White people staying there.

Ayanna: Really?

Mrs. Luper: Yes. And you’ll be able to go to nice parks without anyone kicking you out.

Barbara: Back home, we’re always kept apart from White people—on buses, in movie theaters.

Marilyn: I hate that we have to use separate drinking fountains. Half the time, ours are broken.

Calvin: I can go into a shoe store, but I’m not allowed to try anything on.

Ayanna: All my schoolbooks are tattered hand-me-downs from the White school.

Mrs. Luper: I know. But it’s not like that everywhere.

N1: The bus stops at a diner in Missouri.

Ayanna: Mrs. Luper, can we really eat here? There are White people inside.

Mrs. Luper: It’s OK. This diner serves everyone, no matter the color of their skin.

N2: The children go in and sit down. They’re nervous.

Barbara: We’d probably get arrested if we did this back home.

Calvin: Or beat up.

N3: A White waitress comes over and smiles.

Waitress: What can I get you folks?

Ayanna (shyly): Um . . . a hamburger and a lemonade, please.

Marilyn: Me too.

Mrs. Luper: We’ll all have the same, please.

Waitress (kindly): Sure thing!

Ayanna: Thank you, ma’am.

Calvin (whispering): I can’t believe we’re being served by a White person!

Ayanna: Well, it’s about time we were.

Barbara: The way we’re treated back home is so unfair.

Ayanna: Maybe we can do something about it.



Children as young as 5 and up to age 17 participated in the Oklahoma City sit-ins. More than 85 children showed up for this sit-in, at the John A. Brown department store lunch counter. Barbara Posey is the tallest girl in the front row.

August 1958, Mrs. Luper’s house

N1: After the Youth Council returns to Oklahoma City, they spend more than a year talking to restaurant owners, trying to end segregation.

Barbara: The owners all say the same thing: “If we start serving Black customers, our White customers will leave.”

Ayanna: What do we do now?

Mrs. Luper: Some students in Kansas recently did a sit-in at a lunch counter.

Ayanna: What’s a sit-in?

Mrs. Luper: It’s a peaceful protest where you refuse to leave until you’re treated fairly.

Marilyn: We should try a sit-in!

Mrs. Luper: I have to warn you, many people don’t want things to change. When Black folks have sat in White restaurants, people have yelled at them, spat on them, even pushed them around.

Calvin: If anybody spits on me, I’ll pop ’em in the jaw.

Mrs. Luper: Do you think you’re going to change anyone’s mind by punching them?

Calvin: I guess not.

Mrs. Luper: I know it’s hard. But you must remember, the Youth Council believes in nonviolence.

Ayanna: We don’t fight back with words or fists.

Mrs. Luper: That’s right. You sit quietly and show people you have dignity.

Ayanna: We are just as good as anyone else.

Later that day, Katz Drug Store

N2: Ayanna and the other kids sit at the lunch counter.

N3: A waitress walks over.

Barbara: We’d like 13 Cokes, please.

N1: The waitress points to a sign that says “Whites Only.” She rudely tells them to leave.

N2: The kids don’t move. The waitress calls the manager over.

Calvin: Why won’t you serve us?

N3: The manager tells them that’s just the way things are.

Ayanna: But why does it have to be this way?

N1: The manager looks at Mrs. Luper. He’s annoyed.

N2: He tells her to stop making trouble and to take the kids out.

Mrs. Luper: They just want some Cokes.

Ayanna: That’s not much to ask!

N2: White people at the counter get up. They don’t even bother to finish their food.

N3: One customer angrily pours a drink on Calvin.

N1: Calvin clenches his jaw and doesn’t react.

N2: Mrs. Luper walks over and hands him a napkin.

Mrs. Luper: I’m proud of you, son.

N3: The children sit quietly until the store closes.



These North Carolina college students led one of the most famous sit-ins, in 1960. The Oklahoma City sit-ins two years earlier aren’t as well-known.

The next day, Katz Drug Store

N1: More Black kids join the sit-in. They fill every stool at the counter.

N2: Like the day before, the waitress angrily tells them to leave.

Ayanna: We’ll just sit here until they serve us!

N3: Again, White people get up and leave.

N1: A crowd gathers, shouting at the kids. Reporters arrive.

Reporter 1: Why are you doing this?

Ayanna: They won’t serve us just because of our skin color. That’s not fair!

Reporter 2: Are your parents worried about you?

Ayanna: My mama says it’s worth fighting for what’s right.

N2: They stay for many hours and are never served.

A day later, Katz Drug Store

N2: The children sit down at the counter for a third time.

Marilyn: We’d like Cokes, please.

N3: Finally, the manager decides to serve them to avoid more trouble.

N1: The waitress angrily brings over the Cokes.

Ayanna: Thank you, ma’am!

N2: The kids are thrilled as they sip their drinks.

Ayanna: We did it!

Mrs. Luper: Yes, you did.

Ayanna: Now it’s on to the next restaurant.


Ayanna: For the next six years, we spent our weekends going to restaurants around Oklahoma City.

Calvin: We wouldn’t leave the restaurant until we were served.

Barbara: Hundreds of students joined us.

Marilyn: Two years after our first sit-in, a group of college students in North Carolina had their own sit-in.

Ayanna: It worked so well, it led to sit-ins in 55 other cities.

Calvin: Finally, in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. This law made segregation in public places illegal.

Barbara: Today, Ayanna travels the country and shares her story. She wants children to know they have a voice too.

Ayanna: We were just kids, but we took a stand and helped change America. 



Ayanna has been honored many times over the years for her work in the civil rights movement.

This play was originally published in the February 2019 issue.  

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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
More About the Greensboro Four

Do your students have an appetite for more information about the Greensboro Four? If so, serve up Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. This read-aloud book, with swirling illustrations by Brian Pinkney, tells the story of the more famous Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-in of 1960.

More About the Story


Character, fluency, vocabulary, mood, supporting details, problem and solution, compare and contrast, inference, plot, theme, explanatory and opinion writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

This historical fiction play tells the story of how 7-year old Ayanna Najuma and her young friends held sit-ins in 1958 that prompted the integration of a restaurant in Oklahoma City. It discusses the concept of nonviolent protests and the importance of using your voice for positive change.


The play has six scenes followed by an epilogue. The first scene takes place 15 months prior to Scene 2, at which point the scenes are chronological through Scene 6. The epilogue briefly discusses what happened in civil rights history after the Katz Drug Store sit-in and talks about Ayanna’s current work with young people.


There is some challenging vocabulary related to the civil rights issue in the play, such as segregation, protest, and nonviolence. The play also includes a few idioms.

Knowledge Demands 

Some familiarity with segregation and the civil rights movement will aid comprehension but is not required. The soft drink Coke is mentioned several times.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (20 minutes)

  • Show the video “How Kids Changed the World,” in which Ayanna Najuma recounts the story of how she and her friends took action to desegregate restaurants in Oklahoma City. Have students complete the video activity.
  • As a class, look at pages 20-21 and discuss why the title is Ayanna the Brave. Guide students to look at the historical photos and their captions throughout the play.
  • Call on a volunteer to read the Up Close box on page 21 to set a purpose for reading.
  • Project or distribute the domain-specific vocabulary activity to introduce terms related to the civil rights issue in this play. Highlighted terms: lunch counter, equality, protest, nonviolence, manager, illegal, stand

2. Reading the Play

Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class. After reading, discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)

  • What is the mood in Scene 1? What details help create this mood? (mood) The mood is anxious but determined. Ayanna asks if they are actually going to go through with their plan. Calvin says he’s nervous. Despite their nervousness, Ayanna and the others walk into the drug store and sit at the lunch counter.
  • In Scene 2, Barbara says, “Back home, we’re always kept apart.” What examples of segregation (being kept apart) are mentioned in this scene? (supporting details) Examples include: segregated hotels, buses, movie theaters, and diners; separate drinking fountains that are often broken; separate schools with tattered books; not being allowed to try on shoes in shoe stores. It’s also implied that African- Americans might be banned from some public parks.
  • Reread the end of Scene 2 and all of Scene 3. What problem in Oklahoma City is the Youth Council trying to solve? What solution has the group already tried? What are the kids planning to try next? (problem and solution) The Youth Council wants to end segregation in all restaurants in Oklahoma City. Members have talked to restaurant owners, hoping to convince them to do the right thing, but without success. Next, they decide to hold nonviolent sit-ins, in which they will sit quietly in whites-only restaurants until they are served.
  • Compare how the children are treated at the diner in Missouri in Scene 2 with how they’re treated at the lunch counter in Scene 4. (compare and contrast) The diner in Missouri serves all people, while Katz Drug Store’s lunch counter is for whites only. The waitress at the diner is kind to the children and serves them what they order right away. In contrast, the waitress at Katz Drug Store is rude, telling the children to go away and refusing to serve them.
  • In Scene 4, why does Mrs. Luper say to Calvin, “I’m proud of you, son”? (inference) Calvin managed to control himself and not react when an angry customer poured a drink on his head. Calvin stuck to the nonviolent protest that the group had practiced, even when being treated cruelly.
  • In Scene 5, a reporter asks Ayanna, “Are your parents worried about you?” Why might Ayanna’s parents be worried? (inference) During their sit-ins, the children face the possibility of arrest or of angry white people yelling at them, spitting on them, or worse. Ayanna’s parents are probably concerned about their daughter’s safety, but they believe that “it’s worth fighting for what’s right.”
  • In Scene 6, how do the children feel about the success of their protest at Katz Drug Store? (plot/character) They are “thrilled as they sip their drinks” but realize there is more work to do. They immediately start planning to integrate more restaurants.

Critical-Thinking Questions

  • Ayanna and her friends work to make an important change in their city. What character traits help them succeed? (character) Ayanna and her friends are brave, dignified, and determined. These character traits help them find the courage to stand up for what’s right and keep working toward their goals even during times of mistreatment and little success. Their determination leads them to continue working for integration for six more years.
  • The last scene says that Ayanna “wants children to know they have a voice.” What does this mean? How do Ayanna and the other children in the play use their voice? (theme) Ayanna means that she wants children to know that their words and actions matter, that they have the power to change things for the better. In the play, Ayanna and her friends “use their voice” to ensure fair treatment for all by working on integrating the restaurants of Oklahoma City.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Character

  • Distribute the character activity and have students complete it in small groups.
  • As a class, read the writing prompt on page 25. Review the meaning of changemaker from the Up Close box, and have a quick brainstorm about issues in your community that students might choose to focus on.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

As an alternate writing prompt, ask students to focus on the first part of the Write to Win question: Identify a problem in your community and tell why a change is needed.

For Advanced Readers

Have students research other nonviolent protests in the history of the United States or another country. Students may work in pairs or small groups to create a brief presentation of what they’ve learned.

For ELL Students

Help your ELLs with some of the idiomatic language in this story. Find the following phrases and discuss what they mean: “pop ’em in the jaw” (p. 23); “Who do you think you are?” (p. 24); “we don’t serve your kind” (p. 24); “worth fighting for” (p. 25); “took a stand” (p. 25).

Story Connections

Pair this play with two other Storyworks dramas about young girls who fought against segregation and won. Read The Fight for What’s Right (about Sylvia Mendez) and The Unstoppable Ruby Bridges.