School NewsMar 2, 2022

updated Mar 3, 2022

Black History Month at MHS

Celebrating Our Prosperous Black Culture

The depth and breadth of Black history has been a major theme this February at MHS.

At the February 18 Community Meeting, Black Affinity GroupThe MHS Black Affinity Group is a space where Black-identified students and adults discuss how to advocate for the victims of racism, inequality, and injustice; find connection, support, and unity; and learn about Black cultures. members Joana Zimmermann ’24, Najma Yusuf ’24, and Dean of Equity and Inclusion Paula Lima Jones spotlighted some of that history.

Paula Lima Jones

Their presentation opened with the Song of the Day — “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem. Composed in 1900 by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, the song’s lyrics speak of Black resilience, determination, and striving toward full liberation.

“The song is a popular part of Black culture and was often sung during the Civil Rights Movement,” Ms. Lima Jones noted. “The anthem has remained relevant, with a notable resurgence in 2020, as part of a musical protest organized by musician Jon Batiste in response to the larger protest movements that swept across the United States and the world after the murder of George Floyd.”

Najma and Joana spoke about why Black History Month is essential to understanding American and world history, and its significance in honoring Black achievements, legacy, and culture.

“It is important to educate others that Black history isn’t about slavery exclusively, but more expansive,” Joana explained. “It’s also important to remind ourselves of the ongoing issues affecting Black people — systemic racism, discrimination, police brutality — and to celebrate the richness of Black cultures. It is a month to honor our contributions and legacy and to spotlight Black achievements.”

Past, Present, Future — Essie Harris Wade ’68, MHS first Black Student Council President; today’s School President Cailyn ’22; prospective student Aleah ’31.

Najma then highlighted bios of groundbreaking Black women, including:

  • Author and poet Phillis Wealthy — the first enslaved person, the first person of African descent, and third colonial American woman to have her work published.
  • The 6888 Battalion — an all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps and the only all-Black, all-female battalion overseas during World War II.
  • Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan — the “hidden figures” mathematicians and “computers” essential to the U.S. space program.
  • Valerie Thomas — an American inventor and scientist who worked for NASA and invented an “illusion transmitter” used in three-dimensional imagery.
  • Joan Armatrading — an award-winning singer-songwriter and three-time Grammy nominee.

Their presentation also celebrated Black beauty, noting that for centuries, discriminatory beauty standards and messages suggested that Black physical features — hair, skin tone, body shape — were “less valuable.” The emergence of the Black is Beautiful movement in the 1960s reclaimed the natural beauty of Blackness, not in comparison to European beauty standards, and brought renewed celebration to Black identity traits.

Throughout the month, Black History has been highlighted in formal and informal ways.

At an earlier Community Meeting, Junior Class President and Essence co-Head Cherish Buxton ’23 and Dean Lima Jones presented on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), their important history, and their enduring impact. They also reported on challenges HBCU’s face, including more than 20 that had to lock down their campuses and cancel classes following a wave of bomb threats, and they suggested ways the MHS community could help.

Also, students in Dr. Liza Burbank’s History of Race in the U.S. class developed a “Black History is Everywhere” initiative. They created posters highlighting moments in Black history and installed them around campus, in locations that correspond to the subjects of the specific posters. E.A. Peña '25 found 23 of the 24 posters!

As February comes to a close, we are reminded that celebrating and honoring Black history should not be an isolated occurrence, but rather part of an ongoing, inclusive honoring of our diverse community.

Black History is Everywhere

Students in Dr. Liza Burbank’s History of Race in the U.S. class developed a “Black History is Everywhere” initiative, creating posters highlighting moments in Black history and installing them around campus, in locations that correspond to the subjects of the specific posters.