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Black History Month at SMA

Students are examining just a few of the ways SMA recognizes the struggles, contributions and contemporary issues of Black Americans. St. Mary’s is blessed to have a diverse student community that enriches our awareness of how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go.

AP English 11 students watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDTalk “The Danger of the Single Story.” Students then discussed Adichie’s message in the context of Huckleberry Finn, including such questions as, “What are the dangers of only being exposed to one story from this time period?” and “What limitations are in place with Huck as our narrator and Twain as our author?”

Students also read Chapter 1 of Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, in which he describes his childhood in slavery and the brutality he witnessed. Students had wonderful comments about the value of seeking out stories and histories from multiple perspectives, and especially the value in seeking out marginalized or silenced voices. Future lessons will include Adichie’s novel Americanah and will examine how white privilege is visible only to those without the power to be blind to its reality.

English 9 classes, using a flipped classroom style, read about ballads as a genre of narrative poetry. This included analyzing two brief sources for background about Birmingham Sunday as a critical point in the Civil Rights movement, listening to Joan Baez singing the ballad “Birmingham Sunday” on YouTube, and choosing from a series of analytical questions to draw inferences about Richard Farina’s poetic lyrics. The exploration allowed students to discover the role art (poetry/song) can play in social justice. It also allowed students to experience how genre (art, nonfiction and poetry) helps us explore the spectrum of our own feelings and experience with race.

Seniors in Modern European History will study the Age of Mercantilism this month and conduct an exploration of the slave trade at its height, as well as its tragic connections to modern slavery. An expansive image exploration (maps, drawing, charts, etc.) serves to help students gain a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of this era. Primary source documents on the Middle Passage from a former slave and first-person narrative accounts of modern slavery aim to draw parallels and contrast the experiences.

Juniors in U.S. History classes will engage in a rich resource exploration of the African American experience during the Jazz Age as part of their more thorough study of the Harlem Renaissance. In a multimedia activity, starting with the PBS film series called the Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, we explore six key trends and events in African-American history during the first half of the 20th century. Topics include the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, NAACP, and sharecropping. Students will also read primary sources, such as an annual report from the NAACP, an article from the KKK defending their views, and Law Codes from Alabama. Many students are also working with iMovie to create newsreels on aspects of culture and society influenced strongly by African-Americans, such as blues, jazz, poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and the Cotton Club to name a few.

AP French students will touch on la Négritude, a literary movement in the 20th century heavily inspired/influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. Students will also be reading some excerpts from Une Tempête, which is a rewrite of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but with a post-colonial Africa lens instead of a European one.

Juniors in Theology will consider the implications for beliefs, attitudes, service, advocacy and policy in light of Catholic Social Teaching. During the early part of the month of February, we ask the question from the second theme of Catholic Social Teaching: What does “Call to family, community, and participation” mean in a society dealing with racial injustice? Students consider a variety of sources to answer this question. So far they’ve looked at scripture, Bill Moyers, the work of SoulFire Farms in upstate New York, and Jay Smooth of illdoctrine.com. Students will continue with The New Jim Crow, Ron Finley’s Guerrilla Gardens in LA, and then they will consider the latest developments in the Black Lives Matter movement. When the students return from their trip to Mississippi, they will enrich other classes with their observations and experiences for another perspective.

In Art as part of the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain unit, which includes upside-down drawing to improve observational skills, students use an observation sheet based on black Artist Elisabeth Catlett’s print All the People, which is housed at the Museum of Women in the Arts at Washington D.C. As student begin the drawing process, they read about Elisabeth Catlett’s life and art.