The sea of wooden chairs are packed to the max in an aging school auditorium. It’s abuzz with giddy Kindergarten through 6th graders. They anxiously await the opportunity to recite the lines of their well researched and meticulously rehearsed Black History Month projects. Some gaze endlessly at hastily scribbled lines about Harriet Tubman’s fearless leadership in times of severe oppression. Others practice their delivery about the wonders of Garrett A. Morgan’s traffic light and how he opened endless possibilities in the world of driving. Suddenly, the lights dim and a hush falls over the crowd. The school’s beloved principal emerges from behind faded maroon curtains to the awe of her doting pupils. She seamlessly glides across sagging floor beams to the sound of her own heels click-clacking underfoot. The seasoned principal gracefully addresses the eager students with a polite greeting and raises her hands, indicating they should follow suit. She then proceeds to lead them in the harmonic melody…
“Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring…“
For all my 90’s peeps who came up through the public school system, I’m sure this took you back. Believe me, I know that you know this scene all too well!
Whether elementary, middle or high school students, community centers, churches and the like, the annual Black History Month performance has taken on many shapes and sizes over the years. But one thing is for sure, it’s always been marked by a sheer pride for the journey of the African American within this country.
February is upon us and if you know anything about me, you’d know I’m passionate about celebrating the Black Experience. For this month in particular, I don’t need an excuse to write about the people and culture that have touched every facet of human history. There’s no need for me to hold back in any way, I can be unapologetically black! 🙂
I am elated to share with you my ever growing plans to celebrate Black History Month with my children! My goal is to take about 15-20 minutes each school day in February to learn about one of these influential people.
Without further ado, here’s the run down of our month long celebration of excellence in Black history!!
Week 1: 2/1-2/3 – Firsts
- Wendell Oliver Scott – 1st African American (AA) winner of a major NASCAR race, watch Driven, an animated video of his accomplishment here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnQJwgwK1vA
- Tia Norfleet – 1st AA female NASCAR driver…need I say more?
Watch her interview here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=se3rcw40Mi8
- Peter Ramsey – 1st AA to direct a major animated film, “Rise of the Guardians”, see his interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyXMHQvTnzo
Then, we’ll watch “Rise of the Guardians” at the end of the week!
Week 2: 2/6-2/10 – #BlackGirlMagic
#BlackGirlMagic is the name of the game this week! We’ll celebrate the talented female athletes of color from the 2016 Olympics by reading “The Golden Girls of Rio” by Nikkolas Smith. We’ll also catch some of their amazing feats on YouTube.
Week 3: 2/13-2/17 – The Sciences
- James E. West – Mic check, mic check, 1-2…1-2!! If not for James West, you would have no idea what I meant by that phrase. Lol
He, of course, invented the microphone! We’ll find out more here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDeKX8riaAc
For those science heads wanting to delve a little further, you can hear from the man himself about how his childhood fascination with electricity turned in to a career https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ig2t8upjtn0.
- Mark E. Dean – electrical engineer, invented the connection between the computer and the printer. See his profile here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0zte09CtpY
Then, we’ll read about his invention in “What Color is My World?” by Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Mae C. Jemison – astronaut, 1st AA female space traveler. Here’s a cartoon about her life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Qn1Ejt_gsQ
And here are a couple of short interviews with Mae C. Jemison:
I’m still working out the details but we’ll hopefully meet a local AA veterinarian and hear what a day in the life of a vet is like.
Plus we’ll listen to this song from Story Bots that further explains what veterinarians do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWsN1EFGKkc
- Katherine Johnson – NASA scientist, mathematician and hidden figure no more! We couldn’t let the high of the break out movie Hidden Figures pass us by without taking a look at the woman who inspired the movie. First up, we’ll be reading part of her story in “Women in Science : 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World” by Rachel Ignotofsky.
Then, we’ll catch Hidden Figures at the movies at the end of the week!
Week 4: 2/20-2/24 – Music & Dance
- Cab Calloway – Star performer at the famed Cotton Club, bandleader and music pioneer. We’ll read “Swing Café” by Carl Norac and then watch a couple of his performances here:
- Ella Fitzgerald – No matter the name she went by she’ll always be the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz and Lady Ella! We’ll read more about her in “Skit Skat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald” by Roxanne Orgill.
- Marian Anderson – acclaimed opera singer
- Josephine Baker – Beyonce doesn’t have anything on Josephine Baker! Quite honestly, she could be considered the 1st bonafide AA international superstar! We’ll read “Jazz Age Josephine: Dancer, Singer–who’s That, Who? Why That’s MISS Josephine Baker, to You!” by Jonah Winer.
And we just might learn to strut our stuff like her after watching this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BhNv7dRHQI
- Tap Dance Trio: We’ll collaborate our dance efforts and take a peak at the tap of Bojangles, Gregory Hines and Savion Glover to boot! First, with a reading of “Rap a Tap: Here’s Bojangles, Think of That” by Leo & Diane Dillon.
Next, we’ll watch Savion in action in this classic Sesame Street clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ToLIHN1mhY
Lastly, we’ll see Savion and Gregory kick it up a notch on another lively Sesame Street clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hkhXIqVOw0
Week 5: 2/27-2/28 – Media
- Jack L. Cooper – 1st AA radio broadcaster, We’ll see all about this pioneer’s life at the National Radio Hall of Fame here:
- Michelle London – Currently a news reporter at NBC St. Luis and formerly a Content Editor at ESPN (and…did I mention she’s my very own cousin who I am BEYOND proud to include on this list?!) We will watch a clip of our “Cousin Shelly” doing what she does best…tackle the news and anything else that comes her way!
Last, but certainly not least, we will round out our tour through the corridors of Black History with a look at the life of a woman whose resume speaks for itself…
- Oprah Winfrey – the 1st AA TV show host, 1st and only AA billionaire in North America, philanthropist, a voice of our time and not a shabby actor if I say so myself!
We’ll read about her rise to fame in Carole Boston Weatherford’s book “Oprah: the Little Speaker”. And with the assistance of Cynthia Chin-Lee’s book, “Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World”, we’ll get a glimpse of her impact in better shaping the scope of this world for African Americans.
What a month this will be! I am beyond excited and I hope you are too!!
No matter how you choose to celebrate Black History Month, I pray you find encouragement in the accomplishments of those who have gone before us. And if you don’t identify as a person of color, my hope is you will see and experience the joys of the diverse world in which we live with a little help from Black America.
There’s nothing better my friends!
Until next time, peace and blessings to you all.