Making Black History Month a standout at FDR high school

A student-led movement to put a little more step into FDR High School’s observance of Black History Month will include an ambitious assembly and public event Feb. 26.

The plans have been spearheaded by 10th grader Ayale Williams. “Last year…I realized that in the month of February there weren’t a lot of things happening for, or honoring, Black History month,” Ayale told the Observer.

“So this year, my sophomore year, I said to myself, change has to happen because there are a lot of African-Americans, or blacks, who have made a difference—not only for other African-Americans and blacks—but for everyone,” Ayale said.

“We learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks — and some even learn about Malcolm X — but my vision, my inspiration for this was people, African-Americans, who have made a difference that aren’t acknowledged,” she added.

When she approached Principal Barbara Marrine with her idea, Ayale said Marrine was supportive and suggested an assembly or program or production. And the plans evolved from there.

One outcome of these efforts is the resurrection of a step dance team, which started at FDR High several years ago but stopped after only one year, according to Ayale. Step is a synchronized group dance style that has roots in traditional African and African-American dance.

The team will be featured at the Feb. 26 school assembly, which will also include dance, poetry, skits about African-American history and a performance by the school jazz band.

That assembly will be repeated for the public, at 6pm that night, free of charge, and followed by a social time with refreshments from three traditions, American soul food, Caribbean food, and African foods.

“Ayale has been remarkable in her efforts to improve student awareness and participation in and around events relating to Black History month,” FDR’s Dean of Students Michael Ruella told the Observer, on behalf of the administration.

“The Step team has been working very hard after school for their upcoming performance on the 26th. I anticipate a great performance by all participants and we are hoping the community comes out and supports our students,” he added.

The history lessons for students will not be limited to the assembly. A committee of 16 students, including Ayale, has been working on an array of offerings. For the monthly student movie night, the selection is “The Butler,” starring Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker. The committee also designed posters and banners on various black history themes that have been posted around the school as well.

Maryann Williams, who teaches 10th grade global history and AP European history, also has been involved in the plans from the beginning.

Although elements of black history and culture are part the curriculum, she said, this is the first celebration of such events she knows of at the high school.

For a lot of students, she added, “the curriculum sort of seems imposed upon them, it’s what we, the faculty decide to honor…This is what the kids have decided is important and relevant and there’s a sense of ownership…they’re invested in it. It’s been the most joyful thing to watch.”

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