Speakers, Activities Provide Constructive Lessons in Black History

Note: This article is the second of a two-part series highlighting activities related to Heritage Hall’s observance of Black History Month.

This month, the Heritage Hall community observed Black History Month in many ways. On February 16, upper school students welcomed Dr. Catherine John, professor of African-American and Afro-Caribbean Literature at the University of Oklahoma; George Lee, a graduate student and former nationally ranked debater; and two recent OU undergraduates for A Time to Change Day. These special guests led interactive discussions on the African American experience in America throughout history and the impact of racism.  

In an effort to “inspire  a sense of unity and understanding around issues that shape our perception of differences,” Dr. John and her students talked on a range of issues, including the civil rights movement and the modern presence of anti-blackness in education, housing, and law and order. Dr. John explained her belief that discrimination manifests itself differently between different races and the history of those races. “Diversity is having respect and an understanding for racial differences.” Many students openly shared their opinions on these topics and others throughout the morning’s presentations, and left the discussions with more insight about racism in their communities and the need to work together to become truly unified.  

Following lunch, our special guests joined upper school students and faculty for a special performance of the winter musical, Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, featuring talented Chargers from all three divisions. Time was allowed following the show for a discussion on the students’ observations and feelings, such as, “How would racism in Huckleberry Finn’s era appear in the modern day?” Because of the sensitive material, the performing artists who participated in the production expressed their feelings of honor to be a part of reproducing this story of love, courage, and overcoming obstacles. Cast member Maya Banks ’20 remarked, “Though we still have a ways to go, it’s reassuring to see how far we have come.” The thought-provoking day ended with the energetic playing of a Djembe, a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet West African drum played with bare hands. The drummer, Aboubacar Camara, is a West African master drummer who is on theTeaching Artists Roster of the Oklahoma Arts Council and is also the husband of Dr. John, our keynote speaker for the day.

The Upper School was not the only division to participate in activities this month. Middle and Lower School also hosted speakers and partook in special activities and projects related to Black History Month. Examples include the reading of “The Cay” (5th grade) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (8th grade); writing essays on Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou (6th grade); and researching and writing about historical figures (3rd grade).

As we strive to come together as a nation, Dr. John left us with an important rule to live by: “Always put yourself in the other person’s place and ask, ‘how would I feel in that situation.’” In the end, the observance of Black History Month provides us with a more well-rounded perspective and a reminder that black history is a part of our collective history as a nation that doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be limited to one month.

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