Celebrating Black Lives of the Past, Present, and Future


Courtesy of PDS

Helen Mehreteab, Print Features Editor

Black History Month celebrates the African American community of today as well as the contributions of African-American individuals who challenged racial stereotypes of their day. When asked about his favorite Black History Month figures, English teacher and Community Multicultural Development Team (CMDT) Chair Anthony McKinley stated, “Lorraine Hansberry is one, responsible for one of my favorite plays, A Raisin In the Sun. James Baldwin is another. The intersectionality of being black, homosexual, and unapologetic is inspiring in terms of the courage that’s necessary.” These prominent figures have influenced us in countless ways, and we continue to celebrate them during Black History Month.

In honor of this momentous time of year, PDS hosted its own Black History Month Celebration on February 12th. The celebration featured performances from students in the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools, in addition to a visit by the celebrated philosopher, political activist, and author Dr. Cornel West.

The afternoon gathering began with an opening from Head of School Mr. Stellato, followed by a performance of the slave spiritual “Wade In the Water” by a group of third-grade students. Next, members of the Middle School Affinity Group presented a slideshow about local singer, actor, and Civil Rights activist Paul Robeson who, despite the racism of his time, led a successful career.

Afterward, the celebration transitioned to Upper School performances from juniors Skylar Hall and David “Diggy” Coit and senior Damali Simon-Ponte. Hall performed an original dance piece to the song “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone, which accentuated the oppression African-Americans faced throughout American history. Through his poem, “Loving My Skin,” Coit shared his experience discovering the things he loves about being black. Simone-Ponte powerfully recited “What To A Slave Is The Fourth Of July” by Frederick Douglass.

Following the student performances, senior Dilan Zeytun West introduced her father, Dr. Cornel West, to the audience. Dr. West gave an insightful speech about racism, education, and the foundation of our nation. Through the use of metaphors, historical references, and humor, he provoked the audience to think deeper about success versus greatness, the definition of “equality,” and the true significance of Black History Month.

To conclude Dr. West’s speech, the co-heads of the Black Latino Student Union, seniors Summer Patterson and Kaylah Bland and junior Marilena Cordon-Maryland, invited members of the audience to the stage to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson.

The audience, along with the members of the Upper School Black Latino Student Union who rehearsed the song, gave a memorable performance. The celebration was concluded by French teacher Edem Afemeku’s drum circle, during which audience members were invited to choose a drum from Mr. Afemeku’s varied assortment.

“I’m always proud to identify as being black. That sense of pride, it increases a bit during Black History Month because of the…national recognition,” noted Mr. McKinley. “But for me, acknowledging those contributions happens on a daily basis… it’s a part of beginning to understand my ancestry, and lineage, and heritage.”

Although Black History Month is coming to a close, we will remember the African-American activists of the past who paved the way for equality in America, as well as celebrate the African-Americans community of the present.