In 2021, Theatre Arts Director David Glover, Me-Chelle Burkhalter P ’22, middle school science and math teacher, and Yolanda Johnson, lower school teacher, sought to expand traditional Black History Month celebrations to highlight and uplift the heritage, achievement, and rampant joy of Black culture in our community and beyond.
During the second annual Celebration of Black Voices, faculty highlighted the achievements and history of Black Americans with a special emphasis on this year’s Black History Month theme of Black health and wellness.
Rebecca Shrader’s Little Jags class celebrated Black History Month through an artist study of Faith Ringgold, a painter, mixed media sculptor, writer, and performance artist best known for her narrative quilts that tell the story of her childhood.
In her book, Tar Beach, she shares the dream adventures of eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot who pretends she can fly above her apartment’s roof, a tar beach, in 1939 Harlem. Tar Beach received the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award for the best illustrated children’s book of 1991.
Taking inspiration from this still beloved book, each of Shrader’s students was asked to finish the statement, "I can..." when asked what they pretend to do when they play. The result is a beautiful, robust work of art surrounded by fabric squares that mirrors Ringgold’s vibrant, rich style.
To create their artwork, students were asked to locate the correct color for Ringgold’s skin and their own. While noticing differences in skin tones, they acknowledged that we are more similar than different.
Reverend Joel King Jr. visited students in grades 1-4 to discuss his first cousin, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, and how everyone can be an upstander.
Rev. King discussed the history of the civil rights movement and its impact on students' current experiences, with a particular focus on the integration of schools. He reminded students that schools were desegregated just 68 years ago. King encouraged audience members to study history, his favorite subject in school because “if you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you’re going.”
He inspired students to make the world a better place through love, kindness, and fairness. He wanted students to remember, “It begins with me.”
Debra Parkes P ’26 helped 4th graders create window cling infographics featuring historic upstanders.
The project started after Parkes was sent free test materials to create the 4th-grade designed sensory path in the early childhood hallway. One of those materials happened to be window cling. The material didn’t work for the path but Parkes was determined to not waste the sample. She came up with an idea – use the window cling to display historic upstanders.
Each 4th-grade class was assigned a theme. Yolanda Johnson’s class worked on activists and community leaders, Erica Foster’s P ’32 students studied writers, poets, and artists, and Jodi Porterfield’s class investigated scientists, mathematicians, and inventors. For Porterfield, teaching Black history “helps us understand how much we are really similar. We remove barriers and begin to authentically connect with one another.”
Students were asked to conduct independent research on their upstander, draw a portrait of the individual, and design an infographic with the information they discovered in a new program, Canva.
Parkes will print students’ designs on the cling and display them in the lower school hallway for the entire school to enjoy
Me-Chelle Burkhalter P ’22 organized a middle fair to celebrate Black History Month’s theme of Black health and wellness. For Burkhalter, this year’s theme has particular relevance while living in a global pandemic. “In adopting the national theme of Heath and Wellness for Black History Month and adding self-care, we address the toll COVID has taken on everyone and offer mindful solutions for a healthier community,” Burkhalter said. “It also affords us a moment to pause and recognize the historical and present-day disparities in healthcare systems. Differences that are glaringly apparent at the intersection of socioeconomic status and race increase exponentially during global pandemics.”
After morning meeting, middle school students watched a 60-minute documentary about disparities in healthcare for Black Americans from slavery to COVID-19. After watching, students discussed the documentary in their advisories. Additional videos explored the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and teenage mental health.
Students were provided a variety of activities from self-defense to yoga to sustained silent reading. Dia Mixon, middle and upper school Spanish teacher, even taught hip-hop aerobics. Students were also encouraged to select a wellness challenge from 30 options, including pushups, journaling, mindfulness, and more.
In the upper school, David Glover organized a health and wellness fair with a wide variety of activities to meet the needs of upper school students.
Throughout the fair, students enjoyed workshop options ranging from self-defense to dance to creating self-care products. In low-lit destress stations with diffusers, students enjoyed guided relaxation and meditation sessions. This allowed students the opportunity to check in with themselves to ensure they are not only physically healthy but also healthy mentally.
Students also examined disparities in health outcomes in communities of color through the lens of the Black experience.
Through curriculum, programming, and events, the second annual Celebration of Black Voices encouraged students of all ages to scrutinize their health and well-being and the health of everyone in their community. As faculty shared the artwork, history, literature, and inventions of Black individuals, students recognized and celebrated the accomplishments not only of well-known Black Americans but also members of the Wellington community making a difference in the world.