By Tali Rosen
On Friday, February 1, the Beacon Black Student Union and the Beacon Dance Company kicked off Black History Month with two performances of “Our American History,” an uplifting and enlightening two hours of dance, song, spoken word and drama at the Jacqueline K. Onassis High School. The evening opened and closed with an original skit about a girl applying to college who learns, by evening’s end, to embrace her heritage.
An appreciative Beacon audience watched a dance tribute to the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, who died last August. This was followed by several phenomenal tenth grade vocalists that included Lana Rockwell singing Lauryn Hill’s “I Find it Hard to Say”, Kayleigh Foster singing “We Won’t Move” by Arlissa, Hessie Diallo singing “Crane in the Sky” by Solange and Clementina Aboagye performing “I’m Here” by Cynthia Erivo from The Color Purple.
Dance was used throughout the show to bring history to life through movement, including a powerful piece called “Sadness Unrelieved” about the transatlantic slave trade, where the dancers strained against invisible chains and made the audience feel the shackles binding them. Next, “Justice At Last…???” dramatized youth participation in the Civil Rights boycotts, which moved to a re-enactment of the Rodney King incident and ended with a salute to the Black Lives Matter movement.
A spoken word performance of “Ebonics,” written and delivered by Aaliyah Daniels, gave an eloquent demonstration of the power of speech, and the vivacious BSU steppers ended the first half with a passionate celebration of culture and life.
After the intermission, the audience was welcomed back by a moving reading of the poem “Live Your Creed” by Langston Hughes from Beacon faculty and BSU member, Victor Young. When Mr. Young was asked, in an interview the day before the performance, why he was doing the show, he responded “I’m just trying to share what I know.”
In an interview about the show, several BSU members and Beacon students shared their feelings about being part of such an amazing evening. Lana Rockwell talked about how she wants “people to experience something that maybe they haven’t before and kind of dive into a world that might be a little foreign to them and see a really fun new exciting show.”
Clementina Aboagye summed up the evening perfectly by describing the way it “showcases a lot of problems that people of color face in such a beautiful way that you can’t ignore it.”
The Hughes poem put one of the evening’s powerful themes, living education, into words: “the very best of teachers are the ones who live their creed.” That idea was echoed in the playbill with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” Mr. Young also paid tribute to Ms. Elliott, who together with the Black Student Union Directors brought the show to life. There were too many amazing performers and performances to mention by name, so mark your calendars now to come see for yourself and help fund Beacon arts programs while you are at it.