Nearly 60 members of the community came together at Portsmouth Junior High School on Feb. 17 for an afternoon of Black History Month activities.
Students rotated between 15 different classrooms, each representing a different faucet of African American culture, from African-Americans and the Military, to African-American Writers.
Teachers Stephanie Warren and Jessica Smith began organizing the event back in October, recruiting volunteers and creating sessions. Warren says she was inspired to create the event because growing up, she did not have the opportunity to learn about African-American history. Now that she is a teacher, she wanted to give her students the opportunities that she did not have.
Each class got to experience six twenty-minute sessions.
Volunteers from Shawnee State University faculty, the Shawnee State AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian, Native, American) club, the Portsmouth Public Library, the Southern Ohio Museum, the Portsmouth Police Department, Portsmouth alumni and more, lead sessions and created activities related to their topic.
Session topics included: African-Americans and the Military, Southern Ohio’s Impact on Black History, Protesting: From the Civil Rights Era to Today, African-American Scientists and Inventors, Experiences in Discrimination, The History of African-American Social Dance, African-American Art: Quilts, African-American Music: The History of Rap, African-American Music: Voice/Spirituals, Pan-African Music: Drums, African-American Folklore and Storytelling, Personal Education and Success, Civil War Era Food, African-American Art: Elijah Pierce and African-American Writers: Dr. Maya Angelou.
Student teacher, Ryan Conley lead the session on African American Scientists and Inventors, teaching students about George Washington Carver and his legacy. While Carver was a scientist and an inventor, he also enjoyed painting and utilized natural materials to create his own paints.
“My students and I used white flour and we mixed it with some cold water and we used some locally-sourced red and white clay and basically we mix the clay into boiling water and once it boils we combine the clay mixture with the flour mixture. Once combined, they turn into some really nice thick paint. You can use it as outdoor paint on your house, on your drywall, or just for art,” explained Conley. “One of the great things about this paint, is that it doesn’t stain like a commercial paint, it washes off a lot easier and there is nothing remotely toxic in any of it. Carver created his own paints from clay and crushing up plants and berries and that the students are experiencing.”
Another popular session was the African Social Dance course. Students watched a brief video explaining the origins of African dance and how it evolved and became popularized over time. “It was really fun and I learned a lot,” said seventh grade student, Jayvon Zurborg. “They had different kinds of dance like the Molly, the Cakewalk, the Charleston and the Twist. It was really cool.”
After the video, the students were invited to show off their moves with members of Shawnee’s AHANA club.
“It’s always good to give back, it’s always good to learn, this is a wonderful learning oppprotunity for both the AHANA members and the students,” said AHANA advisor, Justin McMillan. “It’s a good way to invest into the actual community and good way to represent our college and AHANA as well.”
High school students experienced the movie “42,” which tells the story of Portsmouth-native Branch Rickey defying the race barrier in Major League Baseball by signing Jackie Robinson.
“I think the biggest thing students are going to take away from this experience is that they can enjoy history, and it’s their history, it’s Portsmouth’s history,” said Warren.
Warren says they hope to continue the program next year, and will also be hosting a similar program in the Spring focusing on local history.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-981-6977, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara.