This February Darien High School will yet again celebrate Black History Month. Thanks to the hard work of students and teachers over the years, the annual Black History Month celebration has been full of memorable moments (who can forget the exhilarating performance by the Harlem Gospel Choir in 2009?) and has garnered a positive response from much of the student body. It has also garnered widespread controversy due to its message, which many believe is actually harmful for selling African American accomplishments short and stressing the divisions between races.
This year the Community Council is responsible for organizing the Black History Month activities. Emphasis will be put on informing students about historical achievements by African Americans in a variety of categories. Over the daily announcements, students will receive information about Black History in 3 weekly sections: literature, athletics, and science and technology. This portion of the Black History Month celebration will culminate in a quiz students can take based on the information they had received over the announcements, for a prize.
In addition, there will be several guest speakers (most notably, the head of the New York Port Authority) that will come to visit DHS and discuss both their personal experiences and the achievements of African Americans. A variety of movies will also be available for the teachers to show to their students with emphasis on Black History, such as Invictus and Ken Burns’ documentary on the history of baseball, which addresses both notable African American baseball heroes like Jackie Robinson and the general issue of race in the sport.
This year the Black History Month celebration is more focused on smaller events and more frequent events than in years past. Mr. Buckley, one of the organizers of the Community Council, said, “We’re moving away from student assemblies”, mostly due to the fact that the DHS student body has surpassed the seating capacity in the auditorium. Although the move away from large school wide assemblies means that there will be no large scale musical performances this year, it doesn’t mean that Black History Month will be a less enriching experience. Mr. Buckley claimed that moving away from student assemblies will help, “recognize the entirety of the month,” providing Black History Month activities consistently over all of February, rather than emphasizing a single event.
While the Community Council’s celebration of Black History looks to make for a fun and informative month, some students are sure to be unhappy about it. Black History Month has not been without controversy, and many students at DHS believe that its overall message is actually a negative one. A now infamous editorial published in a 2008 issue of the Neirad argued that the existence of a Black History Month not only stressed segregation by singling out African Americans but also served as a symbol of reverse racism, as there was no “White History Month”. Some students at DHS share the opinion that Black History Month does not have an overall positive message. Senior Haley Miller claimed that although Black History Month was an effective and beneficial way to spread knowledge about other cultures it did, “stress the differences” between races. One student who wished to remain anonymous claimed, “Black History Month is a white holiday that was created in order to remove white guilt.” Reservations about Black History Month extend outside of Darien of course, and the month is constantly under scrutiny by the media. This year will see the release of the documentary, “More Than A Month” on PBS which follows filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman's quest to end a celebration that he believes actually sells African American achievements short.
Ultimately however, the general attitude towards Black History Month is positive. Senior Charlie Khachian said, “It is difficult to explain Black History Month because the Black community is far too complex to be identified as one culture and its history is far too complex for one month. But personally I think it is a good opportunity for many people to be proud of their heritage.” Principle Dan Haron believes that the month has brought about the opportunity to spread informative and positive messages. He cited the message of an African American poet and author who spoke in 2008 during a Black History Month celebration at DHS as being particularly important. The author in question claimed that we as a culture, a society, and a country should focus not on the negative history between races but rather on the progression that the modern era has seen in race relations, and how far the African American community has come in the recent years. That positive message, Mr. Haron believes, is ultimately what makes Black History Month beneficial.
In addressing the controversy over Black History Month, particularly the 2008 editorial, Haron claimed that the student was fully entitled to publish his argument, but that ultimately the general attitude of the student body was that something should be done to highlight Black History. Mr. Buckley said that while the student did have an interesting argument, ultimately it is too, “recent” to abolish a commemoration of Black History. Mr. Buckley claimed one need only, “look at how race is depicted in entertainment or politics,” to recognize that there is still a long way to go before total equality is achieved.
The controversy may never end over whether or not Black History Month provides the right message. But that doesn’t mean that the celebration can’t be fulfilling or memorable. This month, thanks to the organization of the Community Council, Black History Month looks to be a positive and informative experience.
The controversial editorial published in 2008: http://darienps.org/neirad/print/February2008.pdf
To see how DHS celebrated Black History Month back in 2003: http://www.darienps.org/neirad/print/feb2003.PDF
To learn more about Community Council: http://darienps.org/neirad/0810clubguide.php