Chapin Celebrates Black History Month

Chapin Celebrates Black History Month

To supplement the activities and lessons inside our classrooms, Chapin has been celebrating Black History Month with several community- and division-wide happenings.

To kick off the month, our Athletic Department partnered with Parents of Children of African Descent (POCAD) to welcome Keia Clarke, CEO of the New York Liberty, for a student-led conversation in the Athletic Center. Ms. Clarke, who was most recently included in Adweek’s 2022 Most Powerful Women in Sports list and WISE NYC Metro’s Women of Inspiration leads all business aspects of the Liberty organization.

Ms. Clarke spoke candidly with our Upper Schoolers about what it means to be an effective leader, what she gained from being an athlete, and her experience working in an often-white male-dominated field. She encouraged students to find joy in what they do and go outside of their comfort zone, noting, “That’s where your growth comes in.”

Early in February, our Department of Equitable Practices launched Chapin’s first-ever “Black Family Legacy Quilt,” inspired by the tradition of quilting in the Black community and the Museum of Food and Drink Legacy Quilt. All K-12 students were invited to color a paper square for the quilt, which now hangs proudly in Chapin’s front stairway. 

On Wednesday, February 8, Class 11 students in the interdisciplinary “American Experience” course had the wonderful opportunity to meet and listen to the world-renowned dancer Linda Celeste Sims on Zoom. Mrs. Sims, a dancer with Ballet Hispánico from 1994-1996 and an Alvin Ailey Company member from 1996-2020, continues to teach master classes worldwide in Ballet and Modern dance for levels K-12 and at universities.  

Prior to Mrs. Sims’ lecture, the students delved into the concept of archives, going first around Chapin to find five objects they felt represented who they are. One of their AmEx teachers, US Dance teacher Allyson Ross, to whom Mrs. Sims is a friend and mentor said, “Consider this your opportunity to experience engaging with a primary source in the research process as you prepare to do your own projects for this class.” 

Mrs. Sims returned to her own personal archive to share stories of her childhood, life as an artist and her experiences with the historic Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She also spent time answering questions provided in advance by the students. 

“Dance provides a haven, a culture, life and community. Dance has no color. Music has no color. Dance was something I was born to do,” she offered. She also shared, “When I reflect on life, a lot of loving teachers encouraged and inspired me and had faith in me.” Mrs. Sims concluded by urging the students to “get off those phones, everyone. Be in the present. Dream big!”

On Thursday, February 23, Lower School hosted a division-wide Assembly in honor of Black History Month. Head of Lower School Thérèse Cruite began, “February is a time dedicated to celebrating African American artists, writers, scientists, leaders – all who have contributed to our world in so many ways. Today, you will hear a little bit from our own community members.”

Our Kindergarten through Class 3 students participated in a joyful "call and response" with Class 1 students, inspired by the famous hip hop song "I Can," and listened to an original poem by Emily Morel (Assistant to the Head of School Office). They also enjoyed a special Class 2 and 3 dance performance featuring elements of hip hop, step, and tap - dance forms created by Black individuals. The students also listened to a read aloud of “Hey You,” by Dapo Adeloa.

The next day, Upper School welcomed Step Afrika! to an Assembly. Step Afrika! is the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping and are official cultural ambassadors partnering globally with the U.S. State Dept. This dynamic and engaging dance company blends percussive dance styles guided by a mission that emphasizes “teamwork, commitment and discipline." The‚Äč performers wove stories about the Black experience into their exhilarating and acrobatic pieces, and even taught the students and faculty a few moves!

On Monday, February 27, Middle School hosted their Assembly, led by MS Equity Coordinator Amanda McMillan. To begin, a student from each grade spoke about an influential Black individual, including Bayard Rustin, Mae C. Jemison, Barbara Jordan and Audre Lorde.

These presentations were followed by spectacular performances by SHADES (our MS African American affinity group), a read aloud of an original poem by Class 6 teacher Elvis Alves, a beautiful rendition of Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up,” sung by a Class 7 student, and watched our MS Dance Club perform excerpts from Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.” (All choreography was reworked for the age and experience of the dancers.)

Each divisional Assembly also included a special video, “I, Too, Am Black History,” featuring Professional Community members who identify as Black sharing heartfelt messages about why they love being Black.

POCAD also hosted a wonderful community evening event on February 16, complete with delicious food, beautiful music, and performances and presentations by K-12 students. It was a joyous occasion for all in attendance!

And on February 28, we were treated to a bake sale hosted our US BLAC Affinity group with the profits from the delicious goodies going to Black Girls Smile an organization supporting the mental health and well-being of young Black women and girls through educational programming and other support efforts.