Nine-year-old Brendan O’Brien loves theater, so when he had to choose an icon to honor for a Black History Month project at school, the decision was a no-brainer.
Brendan is in the fourth grade at the Condon K-8 School in South Boston. For Black History Month in February, all of the students in his class had to do a research project on an influential black figure, past or present. Each child created a presentation and dressed up as their icon of choice for a “wax museum,” in which they would recite a speech about their person’s history.
When Brendan learned of the assignment, he immediately knew who he wanted to be: Tony winner Audra McDonald.
The 9-year-old chose a 1920s-inspired dress, fishnets, heels and a wig inspired by McDonald’s recent role in Broadway’s “Shuffle Along.”
On Feb. 28, the kids put on their “wax museum” exhibit, which featured historical figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., sports stars like Jackie Robinson and Michael Jordan, political icons like the Obamas, STEM heroes like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, and of course, a tiny Audra McDonald.
“Brendan loved that he was able to share with his friends something he is passionate about,” his mom, Nicole, told The Huffington Post. “He told us no one knew who Audra McDonald was. Just as important as her awards and Tony records, Brendan has been inspired by the work she does on behalf of marriage equality and NOH8. He shared that with his classmates.”
Nicole said she loved seeing Brendan’s enthusiasm in sharing his knowledge about McDonald’s life and career. “For a kid like Brendan this kind of project is engaging and makes learning come to life,” she said. “He had quite a crowd.”
Even Audra McDonald herself loved Brendan’s project. Nicole tweeted a photo of him in his costume, which she retweeted. “I am honored!!!!!” the Broadway star wrote.
Brendan fell in love with theater when he saw his first show at Boston Children’s Theatre at the age of 4. “He told us that day that he wanted to be on stage,” Nicole said. The little boy attends the summer camp at BCT, has appeared in some of its productions throughout the year and performed with other theater programs as well.
Last year, Brendan’s friends were able to see him perform in a show and do what he loves, which was an exciting experience for everyone.
“His dream is to perform on Broadway,” Nicole said. “He spends hours learning about shows, actors and actresses and performing at home.”
Brendan “screamed with excitement” when he sawMcDonald’s tweet about his project. “For him that kindness and acknowledgment meant the world,” said Nicole. He also received an autographed photo of the actress from her assistant.
The day of the wax museum was particularly fun for Brendan because he got to wear his costume all day, though he removed the heels during recess. He also loved how much interest his friends showed toward his project.
This sort of experience is typical for Brendan, Nicole explained, noting that his large public school is a place where her son feels loved and supported.
“We love that he has always felt comfortable being who he is in his school,” Nicole said. “He brings a pink lunch box, sits with the girls and likes to braid their hair. For Halloween this year he dressed up as Marilyn Monroe!”
She added, “His school is a wonderfully inclusive place where every child is celebrated. He is authentically himself and is loved for that.”
The O’Briens hope all kids can have that kind of experience some day. Nicole said they’re “thankful every day” for the Condon K-8 School, its administration, faculty and the other families.
Nicole hopes Brendan’s interaction with Audra McDonald reminds others that there are good people in the world
“Small acts of kindness go a long way to supporting and encouraging kids like Brendan who want to be like them when they grow up,” she said. “And having a school and a community that is supportive of all kids is so important.”