By Phoenix writer Imani Chung, ’21:
This February, Kellenberg Memorial’s ETV Morning Announcements featured weekly segments about members of the Black community who have contributed to various respective areas of faith, science, professional athletics, cinema, politics, and culture.
A group of six faculty and six students, including Chandler Dalhouse-Osouna, Christian Joseph, Eziafa Odiaka, Justin Gideon, and Joanna Destil worked in various fashions towards the creation of the ETV segments. The educational interviews were the result of faculty-student brainstorming, discovery, and production. From Thea Bowman and Chadwick Boseman, Blessed Pierre Toussaint, and Althea Gibson, to St. Josephine Bakhita and Toussaint L’Ouverture, the lives of the saintly and secular were explored.
The segments, sponsored by the newly initiated Student Life Center, were intended to educate and inspire the school community in the context of our shared racial history.
Assistant Principal for Student Life Mrs. Mulligan explains, “The Student Life Center’s purpose is to have an open-door policy for all students to have a safe place to discuss questions, concerns, and ideas. It is our hope and vision that all students feel that their voice is heard.”
With this in mind, the Student Life Center planned the weekly segments celebrating Black History Month. I was lucky enough to be able to give the first presentation alongside Mrs. Mulligan on the significance of Black History Month and on heroic individuals who demonstrated courage and achieved recognition in the face of obstacles.
As much as I was proud to be among the students given the opportunity to teach the importance of this history, I was also proud of the opportunity to learn more about the way in which these individuals lived their lives and the impact these lives had on the world.
Over the last year, we have all been confronted with obstacles that none of us could have imagined. These obstacles, frequently illuminating the racial inequity which has plagued the United States’ history, have forced us to have very necessary conversations about race in order to take the steps toward the future we hope to share.
The present in which I live, in which I can attend a school that isn’t segregated, in which I can attend a school where Black history is recognized and celebrated, is the future that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of in his famous speech “I Have a Dream”. But now, in 2021, a new future is forming. While we can’t reach it successfully without continuing our difficult conversations about identity, educational infrastructures like the Student Life Center can help us in this respect.
One senior observed, “I saw within our school community over the last few months that the students began to speak up about how they felt, rather than keeping their thoughts to themselves. Not only did the students stand up for what they believed but so did the school. Kellenberg made sure to let the students know that they aren’t alone.”
Assistant Administrator for Curriculum Development Mrs. Cameron, who is also a Student Life Center Faculty Member, said, “The Student Life Center is for everyone, and it goes back to giving people a place to talk civilly. Because there’s now a place for everyone to talk, we can discuss varied topics without avoiding certain conversations.”
As February 2021 comes to an end, I’ve realized that it’s up to us to follow the brighter lights of others such as Sister Thea.
The bravery to be the light as Sister Thea was can sometimes be found in very practical actions. In other words, to achieve a more equitable future, we can help to support Black-owned restaurants such as “Jamaican Flavors” on Grand Avenue in Baldwin, NY, – a personal favorite of mine – where we can enjoy fresh Jamaican patties; we could also read a book written by a Black author – try “Memorial Drive” by Natasha Trethewey; or we can visit the African American Museum of Nassau County located in Hempstead, NY, to learn about the nuanced history of Black people often not taught in schools.
Senior English teacher Mr. Flood brought his daughters to the African American Museum of Nassau County and was impressed and proud to have such a cultural gem here on Long Island.
Mr. Flood said, “Well, there’s nothing like bringing a child to a museum. My daughters were mesmerized by the richness of art and history presented by the various exhibits. Visiting a cultural museum like this is a wonderful reminder of how different and how similar we all are as humans and how valuable it is to learn in this way.”
So whether it is an act of consumerism outside our normal shopping routes or the Student Life Center’s ETV highlight segments, one thing is certain: our education must be engaged. And if it is, conversations can be had, and those conversations can often be fruitful.
Mrs. Mulligan agreed, saying, “Using COR as our foundation to educate our students, the Student Life Center’s purpose is to have an open-door policy for all students to have a safe place to discuss questions, concerns, and ideas.” According to Mrs. Mulligan, it is the hope and vision of the Student Life Center that all students feel that their voice is heard and that the faculty and students empathize with any challenges encountered.
While Black History Month is calendared for February, its historic and modern manifestations point to a future of growth and respect for all American lives, regardless of the color of their skin.