Holderness School

Celebrating Black History: February is Just a Start

Greg Kwasnik
February is Black History Month, and students in Holderness School’s new Culture and Justice Club have used that time to spark the community’s awareness and appreciation of Black history, excellence, and culture.
Because the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has limited student assemblies and gatherings, the Culture and Justice Club decided to observe Black History Month by sending a series of informative emails celebrating Black culture and achievements. The effort was student-led, and sought to engage students and faculty on their own time – a key feature as the school continues to recalibrate itself to the demands of social distancing, mask-wearing, and Zoom assemblies.
 
The club’s outreach has done just that. The school learned from Henry Hood ’24 that the seeds of Black History Month were planted in 1915 with the formation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life (ASNLH). The ASNLH, an organization dedicated to researching and informing the public about the accomplishments of African Americans, was perhaps the first step in a process that eventually led to the federal recognition of Black History Month in 1976.
 
Colin Eldred ’21 discussed the role of the nation’s 106 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which produce 20 percent of the country’s black graduates despite making up just 3 percent of the country’s colleges. From Sacha Levine ’22, we learned about the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses to closing the racial wealth gap. At the end of her email, Sacha included a link to the Black Business Green Book, a directory of black-owned businesses across the country. In other emails, the school learned about the poetry of Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the achievements of Black scientists like George Washington Carver and Betty Wright Harris. From Fiona Hood ’22, we learned about Black hair, and how hair has served as an important feature of Black culture and identity throughout history. Holderness faculty also sent their own emails: Jini Sparkman, the club’s faculty advisor and the school’s director of equity and inclusion, recognized inspirational African American outdoor leaders, while English teacher Marilee Lin wrote about closing the rift between the Asian and Black communities and encouraging allyship.
 
Taken in their totality, the Culture and Justice Club’s outreach has been a true celebration of Black culture and achievements throughout American history. It’s that same joy in celebrating other cultures that gives life to the new Culture and Justice Club, which was founded just this year and already has close to 30 members. During a school year shadowed by concerns about the pandemic, that’s no small thing.
 
“That was really important to us, that this was a celebration,” Ms. Sparkman says. “That we represent the Black community as their whole, complex, dynamic, creative selves. Not just today but 365 days a year. This month was just a start.”
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