BY MAEVE MCKAIG —
In honor of February being Black History Month, a student-run black history program graced the stage in the Gensler auditorium on February 24. The presentation was rooted in spoken word poetry performances by both Shorewood students and KJ Prodigy, guest poet.
Kaia Dunlap and Jordan Terry, seniors, were leaders in organizing the presentation.
“At the beginning of September, we both knew that we wanted a black history program, so that’s when we started brainstorming for it,” Dunlap said. “Whether we have to do it ourselves or not,” Terry added.
Dunlap brought up the idea in a New Horizons discussion, which Renee Glembin, English teacher, supported.
“We were brainstorming things that we observed on campus that probably needed addressing or that we could do,” Glembin said. “How could we be involved here? Kaia brought up the idea of a Black History Month program, and I agreed that that was something that was missing. There was program that I remembered from a couple of years ago, but since then I haven’t seen it addressed.”
The proposal was taken to the administration, where it was supported.
“I was just serving in a supportive role for them to do that,” said Tim Kenney, principal. “[The presentation] was completely designed by students and directed by students. The adults here supported them in their efforts.”
“The administration, they were fairly supportive,” Terry said.
Both Terry and Dunlap stressed the importance of a Black History Month program.
“We should be represented,” Terry said. “There’s nothing here that specifically relates to our culture in a way. Black students, we need to be recognized because you can’t erase who we are. We’re not really going to change who we are so we want to be recognized. Like ‘hey, there are black people here.’”
“It’s important that we recognize our culture,” Dunlap said. “We don’t get to talk about it a lot…What we’re learning in school, they’re talking about things that we’ve been learning about since back in kindergarten: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, [and] Rosa Parks. But there’s more to our history than just that. That needs to be voiced. I think it’s a big deal that we do programs like this, to let the students of color know that we matter too.”
Kenney said that he could not confirm whether Shorewood does a good job of celebrating Black History Month.
“Have we done a good job? I’m not sure what the indicator is that we’ve done a good job,” he said. “I think if there is increased interest in doing more and creating an experience that draws in more and more students from year to year, that would be a great. But I can’t say one way or another about whether we’re doing a good job.”
The presentation was centered on student poetry, which revolved around the underrepresentation of black students at Shorewood.
“Through our conversations, … what ultimately ended up getting expressed was a feeling of frustration of being underrepresented here at Shorewood as people of color,” Glembin said.
“The whole idea of our performance, of spoken word performance is that everybody has their own individual voice heard,” Terry said. “I know that for my poem in particular, I wanted students to not feel afraid to use their voice, and I think it was more to encourage and empower black people or black students.”
Dunlap and Terry said that they did not think students of color had enough of a voice in the community.
“Not as much as we should,” Terry said.
“The overall thing is just letting them know that they have a voice … it’s one thing to say it and another thing for it to actually mean something,” Dunlap said, referring to how Shorewood takes pride in being a diverse district.
Kenney said that he is always concerned about whether students’ voices are being heard.
“Yes, I feel like there is a voice [for black students at Shorewood], I’m not sure if it’s enough,” Kenney said. “It’s something that I’m always working on. [Do] the black students here at Shorewood have enough of a voice? I’m always asking myself that question.”
Glembin said the theme of underrepresentation eventually developed through the brainstorming process.
“A theme of a ‘wake up’ message to Shorewood about this kind of separation … was being expressed in the poems. As well as bringing in the guest poet, who had a historical poem about Emmett Till, [a student read] a poem that was meant to kind of show an uplifting message, ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou, Glembin said. “I think the overarching theme … we were as a group a little nervous about it all because we weren’t sure how it would be perceived.”
Students said that the presentation was well done.
“It was different this year, with the whole poetry thing,” said Eli Dorsey, senior. “I thought it was nice…It was very well done by all of the people that were involved … it had a profound message.”
Terry, Dunlap and Glembin all said that they had received mostly positive feedback.
“Well I’ve heard a lot of good feedback from staff and students who actually really responded to it … including Mr. Kenney,” Glembin said.
Kenney said that he thought the presentation was effective.
“I found it to be very powerful,” Kenney said. “I have never seen a poetry slam before, so I learned a lot from it. For me, it was quite a learning experience.
“Most of the reactions that we got were positive, and it was interesting to see how people reacted,” Terry said. “I know that not everyone’s reaction was probably positive, but what … me and Kaia got from it, it was mainly a positive reaction.”
“I feel like people have sort of changed the way they treat me. I feel like it’s the thing that I’m recognized for now,” she added.
Kenney also said he has received positive feedback.
“[Reactions] have been pretty positive,” Kenney said. “I heard people saying they would like to do more, they would like to see it expanded. I had some faculty members come and just say … we should talk about what more we can do.”
Some students felt that the presentation was too focused on negativity.
“A lot of what was being spoken about was negative rather than positive,” Dorsey said. “Rather than talking about ways to fix “problems” that are going on, they kind of just talked about ‘oh this is unfair’ rather than ‘oh why don’t we do this to better the community, specifically the African American community?’”
Dunlap and Terry said they felt proud of what they had accomplished.
“I was just really happy after seeing all of the hard work everybody put forth,” Dunlap said. “To just see it go so well. I didn’t think that when we got on stage that it would go as well as they did, so I was really happy for everybody.”
“I’m really proud of the work that everyone did and all of the energy that people put in. It’s so inspiring,” Terry said.
Glembin says she is always proud of students who are brave enough to raise their voice, especially after the presentation.
“Always with spoken word, I so admire students who can write powerful expression feeling and stand before, in this case, hundreds of people and say that,” she said. “That takes a lot of courage and poise and I really admire that. I’m really proud of those students who did that.”
Both Terry and Dunlap hope that a Black History Month program will be on the district calendar every year in the future.
“What I really want to do is inspire the younger students, the juniors, the sophomores, the freshmen, to keep it going,” Terry said. “Younger people of color, I want them to keep this going year after year. I don’t want this to die out. We have to sort of recognize that it’s important ourselves. I think the younger students will be able to carry it on, because I think they recognize the importance.”
Kenney said that he is committed to putting a program on the district calendar.
“We’re developing the district calendar as we speak and I’m committed to getting it on the calendar,” Kenney said.