Each February, our country observes Black History Month to celebrate and remember important people and events in African-American history. At Nueva, our community recognized Black History Month through song, poetry, art projects, step dancing, and cultural education with the theme “Black is Beautiful.”
Black is Beautiful is a cultural movement started in the 1960s to embrace African culture and heritage and dispel the racist notion that black people need to change themselves to make people feel more comfortable. At an assembly at the Hillsborough campus on February 15, Middle School Spanish Associate Teacher Summer Johnson spoke to lower and middle school students, faculty, and families about “Black is Beautiful,” citing positive changes in Hollywood’s portrayal of black people. She spoke about the award-winning movie “Black Panther” as an important film for the world to see black people as leaders, warriors, creators, and heroes.
“I have been told by people that I would be prettier if I straightened my hair, and that if I was smart, I couldn’t be black because black people aren’t smart. I have been misunderstood and judged because of what I look like,” Summer said. “I am a black teacher at Nueva, and I am so happy to be part of the black community of students and faculty here. This is a community where I can share who I am with you.”
I am a black teacher at Nueva, and I am so happy to be part of the black community of students and faculty here. This is a community where I can share who I am with you."
Summer continued, “Black History Month is not only about paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society, or only about Black people celebrating our own identities, it is also about the world seeing us and acknowledging us, and the contributions that black people have made to history.”
The Nueva Black Student Union (BSU) opened the assembly by singing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which lower school students sang every week in February during Community Sing. The BSU also performed step dancing routines, and inspired many lower and middle school students from the audience to stay after the assembly for a step dance workshop with Antwan Davis, the step and body percussion instructor from Molodi, a theater and dance company.
“My favorite thing about Nueva is the sense of community and that everyone is there for each other no matter what. Even people who are not African-American want to support us, and that feels great,” said Nueva eighth grader Mia T.
Mia led a round of trivia questions about Black History that students answered in exchange for a sweet treat. But if they got the question wrong, Mia said, “You don’t get a present, but you still get our love, because this is Nueva!”
At the Upper School, art classes including Rachel Dawson’s Advanced Clay/Ceramic Sculpture class put forth an art exhibition that explored ideas about reparations for slavery: value, labor, deception, and loss, and the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule.” Using black clay, each student sculpted a classic piggy bank with a top slot for coins. Working with clay, an earthen material, the students were able to connect to the process of labor and working the land. Each student crafted a series of replica coins in white clay, to be placed inside the piggy bank, which when shaken, sounded as though it contained money.
On the last day of the project, the students created a video of them dropping and smashing their piggy banks. This last step, an act of destruction, was purposely withheld from the students until the last moment. Inevitably, it brought up a range of powerful emotions. Students were asked to reflect on their feelings and how the process of art-making can be a bridge to further connect to some of the underlying themes of reparations.
But it’s not just during February that study of these themes and issues is important. Nueva’s comprehensive program on Social Justice, Equity, and Inclusion is committed to creating an inclusive culture where all people are welcomed, valued, empowered, and heard. Nueva is committed to fostering empathy, encouraging innovative solutions, and promoting critical thinking skills rooted in a belief that empathy is a crucial mindset. The community believes that diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of an enriching educational experience, and that all students benefit from learning to value, engage with, and understand difference. Cultivating an inclusive, diverse community is a complex and ongoing process, and Nueva is dedicated to building and sustaining a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity.
“Nueva is a community that celebrates differences. We celebrate gifted individuals and accept people for who they are. This is a place where any child can thrive,” said Nueva Trustee and parent Jody Sievers. “No community is perfect, but what stands out about Nueva is that we acknowledge that we’re not perfect and we help people feel supported in whatever they’re going through.”
Black is Beautiful
by Hannah S., Grade 9
“Everyone is different; no one is the same.
For we are all beautiful in our own ways.
No matter how skinny, big or small you are,
It doesn’t matter, for you are a star.
Though some may judge you for things you cannot change,
What really matters is what’s in your heart & brain.
What doesn’t matter is race, skin or hair,
But instead, it’s if you share and care.
That is beautiful.
Be a kind, enthusiastic, friendly and beautiful person.
Stay true to yourself,
And never ever change
Don’t ever try to compare because that is just not fair.
You are different,
And you need to accept it.
If you must change,
Change for yourself
Not because of someone else.
Love yourself throughout each stage.
You are bright as the sun,
And as beautiful as the stars.”