Students from schools all across Douglas County are deep in study of the rich history, culture and contributions of African-Americans during Black History Month all throughout February.
Everything from “A Moment in Black History” announcements, to “Taste of Soul” lunches, learning about African-American music, to wax museum portrayals and many other creative ideas, have gone into making this a special month for all students.
Chapel Hill Middle School celebrates Black History Month with an annual assembly with a notable guest speaker and a celebration featuring a form of music, dance and art.
Four years ago, Spanish teacher Carrin Daniels began what would become an annual tradition at Chapel Hill Middle School.
The middle school's foreign language department chair began a Black History program that has brought in several notable African-American leaders.
According to Daniels, over the last four years, Chapel Hill Middle School has had Dorothy Sparks, one of the first African- American teachers to integrate Douglas County Schools; Rennie Curran, who played college football at the University of Georgia and is now a keynote speaker, life and business coach, author and musician; and Judge Glenda Hatchett, the star of the former court show, Judge Hatchett, and founding partner at the national law firm “The Hatchett Firm.”
“We are always looking for ways to enhance our students’ experiences, both historically as well as culturally,” said Daniels. “CHMS serves a diverse student population and we believe all students would benefit from a distinguished event, such as the Black History Month assembly. I feel it is important to recognize different cultures and celebrate triumphs and victories of African-Americans. African-American history in the United States is filled with incredible stories of many inspiring persons.”
This year's speaker was Stevie Baggs Jr., an Atlanta native who is an actor, a motivational speaker, author of "Greater Than the Game" and a former linebacker in the NFL and CFL.
Baggs, who gave an upbeat presentation, is a three-time All-American and a graduate of Bethune Cookman University. He is recognized as the only athlete to play for 11 professional football teams.
His book, “Greater Than the Game” is an account of Baggs’ professional football career, spanning 10 years with a focus on self-discovery, which was a focus of his presentation to the students.
Baggs said he was the first person in his family to finish college, because “I made myself a promise.”
He shared the word F-L-Y with the students, which stands for First Love Yourself.
“If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love others,” Baggs said.
He told them, “Money is not power; power is information. You have a gift inside you all and you need to find out what it is. You have to have passion — which is love and anger combined — with purpose.”
“When you encounter hate in your life,” Baggs said, “tell them ‘I’m a reflection of you.’ The bad they see in you is in them and the good they see in you is in them.”
A choral ensemble from Chapel Hill Middle School sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” from the poet James Weldon Johnson in 1899 that was put to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson in 1905. It is commonly referred to as the “Black National Anthem.”
This year’s program featured a dance presentation by an ensemble of CHMS students, who displayed several dancing styles, most notably tap dancing.
According to africanamericanhistorymonth.gov, the event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
The account on the website said the Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African-Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African-Americans to our history and culture.
The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, according to the website.
It said, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, 50 years after the first celebration, the association held the first African-American History Month.
Students from art teacher Melody Chambers’ advanced class unveiled a portrait of Baggs, to be hung along three others who addressed the CHMS students on Black History Day. Baggs was presented with a smaller reproduction of the portrait as a gift from the school.
Chambers explained, “The art that was presented to the school and to our speakers at our Black History Month Assembly was created by the eighth grade advanced art students. This has become an annual project for our Black History Month celebration.”
She said, “The eighth grade advanced art students are given a one-inch square cut from a larger black and white photograph of our keynote speaker. They use black and white acrylic paint to reproduce their square onto a larger three-inch square. The 59 students in advanced art don't see the photo and don't know who the speaker is when they begin.”
The art teacher then explained that after each student completes their squares, the squares are put back together on a large 2-foot by 3-foot gridded paper to reveal the image.
“This original artwork will be permanently displayed in the school with the two previous ones,” Chambers said. “We present the keynote speaker with a smaller reproduction as a memento and a thank you for their contribution to our school.”