There were a few moments when I was organizing this assembly that I thought to myself, "Why am I doing this? How did I end up being in charge of the Black History Month assembly?" I said it to colleagues and friends in the overwhelm of organizing students and culling resources.
One of the obvious answers was that I have a hard time saying no particularly when it's something important or when it's a "teachable moment."
But being in charge of this assembly also forced me to ask myself: "What is my relationship to Black History? What do I have to contribute and learn?"
I knew from long ago nights of watching Eyes on the Prize with my mom that Black History was part of American history, a history of oppression, resistance, and iconic moments. But I also wanted to be careful not to appropriate this powerful part of history. I could identify with Black History as an ally, but as a multiracial woman who could pass, I could not claim it as my own. I had to acknowledge my privilege as someone who had never felt obligated to do something for Black History Month.
My thinking started to shift. Instead of feeling resentful for being in charge of this assembly, I started to feel honored. I was organizing something incredibly important. My students and their families were trusting me to do something with this opportunity and as an ally, I had an obligation to rise to the occasion.
It was with this shift in thinking that I thought about what Emerson's diverse student population could contribute and learn. I wanted all students to feel like they could speak up, so I showed a few powerful spoken-word pieces and hoped students would feel inspired. Then, at the Speech and Debate tournament, I spoke with Latrina Reed, the parent who started it all, and we brainstormed how the event might come together.
Then, it was SuperBowl weekend. Beyonce released "Formation" and her halftime performance and the media's response reminded me of how much people didn't know about Black History and our shared history.
LaTrina and I met again, and we started to see an assembly that could teach and push our students: not just the performers, but the audience as well. We agreed to show pieces on white privilege and The Black Panther Party. The cheer coach helped her students learn choreography for "Formation" and the drama teacher helped with microphones, staging, and lights. And when I spoke with my students about the assembly, they signed up. Students of all backgrounds agreed to a variety of levels of participation. Students signed up to emcee, sing, recite poetry, facts, biographies, and perform skits.
Before I knew it, we had prepared an assembly.
In my next post: Emerson's Black History Month Assembly and the conversations that followed.