During the month of February, the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork celebrated Black History Month with guest speakers and special events. Students connected with Appalachian alumni, authors, musicians and each other. The event was planned and hosted by the Academy’s Black History Committee. The committee focused the events on the following goals:
- Promoting interaction between Academy students and Appalachian State University alumni, current students and faculty; and
- Incorporating a variety of cultural experiences and historical learning opportunities in an effort to create a connection to what the students have been learning in their classrooms.
Along with specific events, the Academy’s hallways were filled with decor representing the history of African Americans from present to future.
DaVonté McKenith '12
DaVonté McKenith presents to a fifth-grade class.
Appalachian alumnus and local WXII news anchor, DaVonté McKenith ’12, spoke to students on February 12, 2020. His talk focused on seeing college as a way to open doors as well as an avenue that can help shape lives in a positive way. He also provided insight as to what he does as a news anchor.
“The experience was phenomenal,” said McKenith. “To see so many eager and young, bright minds in the room was reassuring. They were focused, asked some great questions, and seemed to be engaged in the conversation.”
“It was a great feeling and seeing their interest in a medium that can change the world,” he continued.
The feeling was mutual, as students equally were engaged in the presentation.
“I enjoyed Mr. DaVonté McKenith’s visit with us,” exclaimed fifth-grader, Myrical Wilson. “I learned so much about him that I didn’t know! Just listening and learning what a news anchor does each day inspires me to stay focused so that I can go to college one day and go to a school and talk to kids.”
Appalachian’s Diyé African Dance and Drum Ensemble
Sherone Price and ensemble perform for students.
On Friday, February 14, 2020, students experienced Appalachian’s Diyé African Dance and Drum Ensemble. Associate professor, Mr. Sherone Price, and practitioner-in-residence, Mr. Khalid Saleem, both from the Department of Theatre and Dance in Appalachian’s College of Fine and Applied Arts, visited the Academy.
The presentation engaged the students in the arts through an edifying experience of African American Culture. Adorned in beautiful African garments, they welcomed students to the rhythms of a djembe drum, a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa.
“I had so much fun with the drummers,” said fifth-grader, Marcus Parks. “I loved it when they called students and teachers up to the stage to dance with them! I want a djembe drum.”
“We can’t wait to collaborate with the Academy next year,” noted Price and Saleem, hopefully, making this performance an annual tradition.
North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers
Husband and wife authors and storytellers, Patsie Stepney and John Stepney, talk to the fourth-grade class.
On Thursday, February 20, 2020, husband and wife authors and storytellers, Patsie Stepney and John Stepney, visited the Academy to teach and inspire students using folktales, songs and African drumming. Patsie is a retired local librarian who travels with her husband throughout the state of North Carolina sharing and telling stories as members of the North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers.
Students were split into small grade-level groups to aid in the connections made to the students’ ancestral generations. They were quite attentive and actively engaged in the Stepney’s presentation of “Anansi the Spider,” laughing, clapping and singing along.
Black History Month Celebration
Fifth-graders Benjamin Wells, Zoe Wilson and Samantha Gomez-Licon perform their skit for the Academy students.
The month concluded with a celebration on February 27, 2020. For this year’s celebration, the Academy students assigned a new project: “Conquer The Vision in Unity 2020.”
According to the Academy’s Black History Committee, the purpose was to help students recognize the gifts and talents that each one of them possesses and could use to empower others now and in the future.
Emceed by fifth-grader Sakenlo Steele, the celebration included the following:
- A performance by music teacher, April Whitfield, of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was originally written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899;
- A Dynamic Dance Duo by fifth-graders, Myrical Wilson and Shellie Matthews;
- A news report to explain “what is black history… when did it originate” featuring fourth-graders Serenti Lee and Benjamin Wells;
- A group lip-sync performance by fifth-graders CJ Kerns, Ahmaud Liles and Rajanae Bethea; and
- A skit of “The Library Card … A Story about Richard Wright” infused with poetry, dance, song and rap to add color to the skit, performed by a group of fifth-grade students.
“Students made me believe in myself as they rapped lyrics throughout the skit. I didn’t know my classmates had so much talent,” said Yahir Perez.
“Watching my classmates perform throughout our Black History Month celebration made me want to participate and perform,” said fifth-grader Dayara Solano-Castillo.
Contributed by Rebekah Saylors