Indian Creek Celebrates Black History Month

In 1970, President Gerald Ford designated February as Black History Month at the United States Bicentennial, urging Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." At Indian Creek School, our faculty strives to recognize the contributions of a diverse range of individuals towards the progress of the human race throughout our curriculum, year-round. However, it is also important for schools to use the opportunity which Black History Month presents as a platform to highlight the struggles, triumphs, and achievements of millions of black Americans that comprise the history of our nation.

Throughout this month, classes from Pre-K through twelfth grade have participated in lessons and activities designed to highlight black Americans throughout history. Teachers also used this celebration as an opportunity to inspire conversations about racism and inclusion, past and present.

Upper School Head Gerry Connolly started each school day in February highlighting a person or event important to Black History in his morning announcements. During the All School Meeting on Monday, March 25, Mr. Connolly spoke with the Upper School student body about the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, in which the United States Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law requiring railroad companies to provide “equal but separate” coaches for white and black passengers. Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave-owning Kentuckian who fought for the Union in the Civil War, became the lone dissenter in Plessy and correctly predicted that this decision would unleash a flood of laws segregating every part of Southern life. Mr. Connolly used this story to illustrate that history is not simply a story of greater and more freedom, that rights can be gained and that rights can be lost and each generation has to be ready to fight for those rights.

Lower School students have also created and enjoyed a “Black History Spotlight” feature in each morning announcement throughout February. Student representatives independently researched an African American who has contributed to our culture and spotlighted that person for the fourth through sixth grade student body each day.

Contributions of African American artists were explored throughout the month at Indian Creek as well. Kindergarten, first and second grade students learned about contemporary Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, and created works in his style. First grade also learned about the ladies of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and made scrap quilts. Fifth grade students created Bernard Hoyes-inspired dancing people drawings, wax-resist artwork inspired by artist Lois Mailou Jones, and African tribal masks. Sixth grade students are creating expressionist paintings in the style of Jean Michel Basquiat and clay bas-relief inspired by Kimmy Cantrell.

In Research Lab, second grade students are each researching a famous African American writer, musician, scientist, explorer, politician, inventor, or civil rights leader. Based on their research, the students are creating infographics embedded with a QR code that links to a Chatterpix video where the student shares more information about their figure.

Fourth grade introduced began their Black History Month work by creating a Martin Luther King, Jr. Reflection Video, where they each shared an achievement of Dr. King, along with a sentiment they wished they could share with him now. From here, the students each chose an historical or contemporary black American to research for their Wax Museum project, where they will share information about their characters’ lives in the first person to their Lower School peers.

This winter, eighth grade students are reading fiction by contemporary black authors for their independent reading work. American Literature students have been reading pieces written by James Baldwin (My Dungeon Shook, A Talk to Teachers, and Going to Meet the Man), and then focused on analyzing the social, political, and experiential factors that shaped American life in the 1960s. The students capstoned the month with a screening and discussion of Upper School Humanities teacher and filmmaker Mr. Monack's documentary Dunbar: The Alchemy of Achievement, America's First Black Public High School.

AP Language students, took a deep dive into Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" this month. In Socratic Seminars, students considered Dr. King’s rhetorical strategies and also debated about which of his ideas were more or less relevant to the world today.

French III students are exploring the life of one famous French woman per week over a six-week period. In celebration of Black History Month, the class began with two prominent black educators/authors, Dr. Maryse Condé and Mariama Ba who are pioneers in addressing race, gender and women’s rights. An ongoing French history unit has studied several historical figures, an aviator, scientist, designer and singer. Students are answering questions about these women and working on their writing skills by incorporating their answers into short essays. In French IV, students watched an HBO documentary about Josephine Baker, an American woman born in St. Louis in 1906 to extreme poverty and horrific racial violence. Ms. Baker went to France and ultimately became very famous as a singer and dancer, though she still struggled to find acceptance in the United States. Over the course of her lifetime she became a heroine in the French Resistance and a spokesperson for civil rights around the world. The class used the film as a foundation for a very comprehensive discussion of her life and its impact on the civil rights movement.

Ten Indian Creek seventh and eighth grade student representatives began February, by enjoying a day of growth at the Middle School Diversity Conference, hosted by the St. Andrews Episcopal School Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. Ninth through twelfth grade students from the Equity and Inclusion club are holding a bake sale to raise money for a field trip to the Reginal Museum in Baltimore.

To illustrate the impact of black Americans on US History, students from African American Studies (along with a few of their peers) designed an INCREDIBLE collage which is on display in the hallway above the atrium.  The board includes many influential historical figures, along with activists, contemporary artists, and other prominent celebrities. While Indian Creek strives to hold ongoing conversations about global issues, Black History Month gave the community an opportunity to highlight the important contributions of black Americans to our culture today through lessons, projects, conversations, and celebrations school-wide. “It has been an exciting month,” summarized Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Jeremy Beauregard.