African Americans and the Arts: Celebrating Black History Month

FEBRUARY 26, 2024

Students from each division and ProCom members brought hip hop to life at the recent Lower School assembly titled “When the Beat Was Born: A Celebration of Black History Month and the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop.” Class IV students, Abby A., Ameliah B., Cecile B.-A., and Saige B. introduced the 50th anniversary of hip hop—sharing the art form’s roots in the Black community in the Bronx and how hip hop culture focuses on self-expression. They also shared their own connections to hip hop, including family histories and personal reflections.

Lower Schoolers were then introduced to the five pillars of hip hop and corresponding experiences. Rye R. ’27 introduced MC-ing and shared an original poem about the power of music. Ms. Spridellis introduced DJing and taught about turntables and the breakbeat. Ms. Tyner's Middle School hip hop minimester participants introduced breakdance with a dance performance. Jada C. ’25 introduced graffiti and shared videos of contemporary graffiti artists in action. Rye & Jada closed assembly with a discussion about the importance of knowledge that led into a reading of When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill. Throughout the assembly, Class III students (Jordana J.-C., Laline M., Norah W., and Soleil M.) shared quotes from hip hop icons like Queen Latifah, Mos Def, Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, Tupac Shakur, and Megan Thee Stallion. To close assembly, Lower Schoolers were encouraged to "start small" (the LS theme for the year!) by making their own art of any form inspired by hip hop artists.

On each Friday of the February during recess time, Lower School students had the option to gather in the LS Library to hear stories celebrating African American culture, read by African American identifying professional community members. At the African American Read-In, Head of Upper School Ms. Foster-Hinds read The Light She Feels Inside by Gwendolyn Wallace. Class III Teacher Ms. Milbourne read Song in the City by Daniel Bernstrom. Kindergarten Teacher Ms. Prindilus read Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Jessica Curry and Parker Curry. Upper School Assistant Ms. Smith read Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller. Music Teacher Ms. Spiridellis read My Block Looks Like by Janelle Harper. Head of Upper Middle School Ms. St. Jean read The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Tarpley.

Middle School students perused a “A Gallery of Creatives,” throughout the auditorium and balcony, honoring Black artists. In alignment with this year’s Black History Month theme of African Americans and the Arts, Classes V–VIII learned about Black artists like Alvin Ailey, Maya Angelou, Jean-Michele Basquiat, Beyonce, Jimi Hendrix, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Edmonia Lewis, Toni Morrison, Augusta Savage, Sza, and Alice Walker, to name a few. Class VIII students also watched the inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gorman.

In the Upper School, students promoted awareness, understanding, and appreciation of Black history and contributions through a series of presentations. During class meeting times, students either shared reading excerpts about Black history with short analysis, or shared artistic creations inspired by Black Culture or presentations on lesser-known figures in Black history. The Ladies of Color Stand club also hosted a breakfast open to all Upper School students to celebrate Black History Month.

The Parents Association hosted a breakfast honoring Black heritage alongside our community members. As students entered through the blue doors, they were greeted by the musicians of Vado Diomande, who played the vibrant rhythms of West African Drumming. The morning culminated in an interactive dance session.