Urbana High School’s Heritage Club, with the guidance of Assistant Principal Marcus Allen, presented the 3rd Annual Community Black History Program on Feb. 13 in the Urbana High School (UHS) auditorium.
The evening featured “wonderful presentations by the students and community members,” Allen said. Isaac Taylor and Tiana Haile were emcees for the evening.
The UHS black history event started three years ago when Mr. Allen came to the high school. Since then, it “has become one of the most beautiful events of the year,” Principal David Kehne said. In opening remarks, Mr. Kehne shared, “My message to our students this evening … is that right now in our world and in our nation public discourse is often very ugly, public discourse is often slanted and biased in ways that we can’t easily see through. And I appreciate … those members of our community, particularly those who have the wisdom of a long and well-lived life, who reach out to young people and make themselves available to young people, who provide young people with wise and caring counsel and who remind young people that even in spite of what is a rather ugly time in our public lives here in the United States, we still have many shared values and we can look to the seniors in our community to remind us of great messages from the past.”
After standing for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by UHS senior Isabella Cowley, the UHS Choir and Show Choir began the program by leading the audience in James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice & Sing” and then performing part of the Show Choir competition set, “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.” The UHS Dance Company followed with “Rule the World” by Lorde.
Community groups performed next.
The vocal group Heaven Smiles sang “Can’t Give Up Now” before inviting the audience to join in on “God’s Got a Blessing.”
Ni Dembaya, meaning “Spirit Family” in Bamanakan from Mali, performed two high-energy drum and dance songs. This group of artisans from the DMV works to preserve, present, document and research traditional African and African American culture as it is expressed in drum, dance and song.
Madina Franklin, Hood College Black Student Union vice president of social affairs, answered the question, “Why is black history important” by reflecting on her own education. “It’s not exactly covered in the history books,” she said. “You hear some things and some stories, but you never get to truly understand the realities. I personally learned more in the last two-and-a-half years at Hood studying as a minor in African Studies than I have my whole life in high school, middle school and elementary school combined. … This basically means that there’s something that’s not being taught, there’s some kind of disconnect that shouldn’t be happening.
“People try to cover America’s cruelty, but it happened and our ancestors survived it and we are here today because of the blood, sweat and tears shed by them for us to learn to love and to eventually be equal—so let’s repeat black history, let’s teach black history, and let’s embed black history into our brains because it is important, we are important, and to move on to a better future we need to understand our history and learn from it,” she concluded.
The International Thespian Honor Society gave a theatrical reading of Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.” The UHS Heritage Club presented “Cinema, History, Culture,” a program that included Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Director of Bands Mike Harrison and the UHS Jazz Band honored African American musicians by performing “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “The Chicken.” “I do want to share what an honor it is to be a part of this program each year,” Mr. Harrison said. “Virtually every mover and shaker in the jazz community—from pre-1900 early blues up through Herbie Hancock and things still happening today—the vast majority of those people are African Americans and the earliest developments of jazz, people like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington did so much for this wonderful American art form despite having so few rights. And so, we’re so grateful to them and we hope to honor them in performing this music.”
While the event included talented Urbana High students, it was a true community program. Mr. Allen concluded by thanking “the folks who have helped make this evening very special. I wanted to thank Mr. Kehne, our principal, and all of my colleagues … for their help in preparing this community program. We’re looking forward to more in the coming years.”
Mr. Kehne told those assembled, “Just by being present you make a statement to the Urbana community, the county and even the state that we care. We are in this together. … By honoring and understanding black history, we learn, honor and understand American history.”