What I Learned from Black History Month This Year: Part III

Emerson held its Black History Month assembly on an early release day. I spent the early morning printing up the programs LaTrina designed, and then the performers and I spent the rest of the morning rehearsing.

Things, of course, took longer than expected. Mics had to be set, audio uploaded, and not everyone got the chance to run-through their program onstage. But after the break, the students started filing into the auditorium and ready or not, it was time to begin.

We planned to start the assembly with everyone singing together. I wasn't sure how this would go off. We played the song as everyone took their seats, and once we were set to start, one of the MCs invited everyone to sing The Black National Anthem. There was a pause, and as the lyrics scrolled onto the screen, to my surprise, a chorus of voices rang out behind me. Students were really singing, and they sounded so good I was tempted to keep the song going, but there was a full program so we continued on.

LaTrina's son, Joshua, provided context for the assembly with his opening remarks followed by a powerful rendition of Common and John Legend's "Glory." The Tim Wise video clip from "White Like Me" elicited some uncomfortable laughter from the audience and I hoped this discomfort would help students begin to explore the ways race and privilege play parts in all of our lives.

The program unfolded, not without its glitches, but our students learned that Black History wasn't just about Martin Luther King Jr., or slavery. We explored The Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou's poetry, students' original poetry, music from "Hairspray," and introduced the Black Panther Party.

At the end, when one student still didn't understand why we needed a Black History Month assembly, one of the participants said if we didn't, all of the months would be for white history. I continued to hear about conversations unfolding in classrooms after the assembly. Students and I discussed take-aways from the program, about their need to further explore privilege, and learn more about The Black Panther Party. Other students said they were beginning to understand what it meant to be an ally and in the end, that was what I learned too. Being an ally isn't a given. It's something earned.

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