Princeton Day School students, families, and faculty came together to observe Black History Month with a multifaceted program of performances and presentations, along with a keynote by Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames, Associate Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel at Princeton University, that explored race, identity, activism, community, and more.
Head of School Paul Stellato opened the celebration by acknowledging the outstanding work of the Community and Multicultural Development Team (CMDT), along with parent volunteers, in coordinating the Black History Month program. This event, he noted, has not only brought the school together year after year, it has also been a guiding inspiration for other community observances. Students of all ages performed and shared their own original work and personal narratives to create a stirring program that was at once a reflection, a celebration, and a call to action.
CMDT Chair Anthony McKinley reflects, "This event was one of our more impressive representations of student work. From spoken word, to traditional poem, to personal narrative, our students put together an authentic display of pride, courage, and creativity. As if that wasn't enough to fill the respective cups of those in attendance, Rev Dr. Thames' rhythmic prose brought it all together in an inspirational way that left us with much to digest and enjoy."
Dr. Thames asked attendees to put their hands over their hearts and to feel the beat that connects us all. Several uplifting musical performances made this beat a unifying theme of the afternoon's events. Lower schoolers performed Peace Like a River, an anonymous hymn, accompanied by music teacher Julia Beckmann on guitar. Andre Williams '22, fresh from his star turn as the voice of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, sang a soulful rendition of Let it Be that elicited an awed silence from the crowd. The Upper School Black and Latino Student Union led attendees in the singing of the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. Finally, at the conclusion of the event program, Upper School French teacher Edem Afemeku guided an African drum circle in which students of all ages played a variety of percussion instruments.
Student remarks and readings explored racial identity and racism with clarity, confidence, and a fearless curiosity. Malcolm Lewis '23 introduced a Middle School visual arts project inspired by the work of Romare Bearden with an eloquent speech about his own identity. Jacques Hughes '21 delivered a searing reading of Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes. Student authors Ahzaria Silas '20, Zoe Rivera '20, and Will Scarlett '19 read original poems, and seniors David Coit and Skylar Hall shared intertwined, nuanced personal narratives that examined their own experience of being a black student at PDS.
In her keynote address, Dr. Thames stressed the critical importance of speaking about race and racism even, and especially, when it becomes uncomfortable. Citing businesswoman Mellody Hobson's TED talk on the distinction between being "color blind" and being "color brave," Thames applauded the spirit of celebration that attends Black History Month, but also stressed that the work of the Civil Rights Movement is far from done, that racism remains a pervasive and pernicious force in our society, and that to effect social change we must not avoid, but instead should steep ourselves in difficult conversations that allow our community to achieve understanding, healing, and connection.
– Justin Goldberg