Written by Katie Charbonneau, AmeriCorps Member serving at Celerity Lanier School
The decorations are up, costumes are on, and mic checks are done. This is the moment they've been waiting for: the second play of the year. Parents are in chairs on the auditorium floor, and fourth grade students are lined up on yellow masking tape backstage. Our school's dance show, All That's Jazzy, is about to begin. For months, students have been auditioning, practicing, rehearsing, and running through the play. Each grade has their own dance, and the people that auditioned have either their own dance or lines they say. Students learn their dances during the dance class they have once per week.
This play was about the Harlem Renaissance and mentions artists such as Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, and Leonard Bernstein. Many of my students did not know who these people were before the play, so it served as an excellent teaching tool for them. In the media, we see a lot of white artists for white children to look up to. African Americans are whitewashed, and it gives African American children few people to look up to. Many of my students want to become basketball players and rappers, not realizing that they could also be artists, writers, conductors, and anything else they could ever dream of.
My students, fifth graders, did not realize at first that many of the names they heard in this play were real people. These were incredibly talented people that fought for so much, and they honed their skills in subjects I teach my children. Decades later, they serve as beacons of hope for my students. My students see through them that no matter your socioeconomic status, you could also be a writer or singer if you persevere. During this Black History Month, I hope to teach my students about even more powerful African Americans of the past and present that they can look to for hope and courage.