By Sanai Rashid
The outpour of love and joy from students during the Black Excellence Show has cemented the goal Beacon has been striving towards — revitalizing our community after Covid-19 tore us apart for two years. Hosted by Beacon’s Black Student Union and African Student Association, the showcase took place right before Mid-Winter Recess on February 17th. It proved to be a necessary and memorable way to celebrate Beacon’s Black and Brown students in all their glory during Black History Month.
The Black Excellence Show has been a staple of Beacon for quite some time, highlighting the Black and Brown students that make Beacon shine brighter. Currently, millions of schools across America are redefining what it means to celebrate Black History Month. How can we as a society celebrate the beauty of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X while simultaneously expanding our knowledge of the Black heroes of our present? The ultimate goal is more than just acknowledgment of Black culture — it is a wholehearted appreciation of one of the most marginalized groups in the world. Beacon’s Black Excellence Show set out to do just that: demonstrate the excellence of Black students at Beacon in all their creative beauty.
The night was filled with singing and band numbers, monologue readings by B’DAT members, poetry performances from Beacon’s Live Poets Society, dance performances by the step team and Beacon Dance, and more. I performed an original poem at the show — my first time performing poetry to the public. Administration leaders even participated in the event, like Ms. Sam leading the African Print Showcase and Mr. Young presenting a phenomenal spoken-word piece.
As Beacon’s first primary live performance since March 2020, BSU leaders, Naia Owens and Chukwuemeka Okwuka, and ASA leaders, Awa Diarra, Nia Ojemen, Aminata Toure, Temituoyo Omasan, Judy Karikari, and Oumo Diallo, felt immense responsibility to put on a great show. Temi noted, “In combination with the success of the past Black Excellence shows before Covid, we felt pressured to provide an experience up to par with the past times ten.” In addition, Covid robbed Beacon students of the opportunity to collaborate for so long, filling our head with anxiety that all of our teamwork skills were rusty, and we were in dire need of exposure to new groups of people to get us back on track. “The thought of a student-run show was incredibly intimidating,” she continued. “There were many points in which we thought that the show wouldn’t happen or felt incredibly unprepared.”
Initially, the Black Excellence Show was supposed to take place in December. However, due to the increase in the Omicron variant Covid cases Beacon put the production on hold. Judy, another senior leader of ASA, remembers the disappointment of having to halt plans for the show and her anxiety of what the future would hold: “So many kids were out with Covid and didn’t feel safe leaving their homes –including myself– so we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know if the DOE would shut down again or if Covid restriction guidelines would even allow us to have the show. Even after the surge started to slow down, we still had PBAs to do and college matters to finish.”
Thankfully, as the new year arrived and Covid cases started to slow down, planning for the show kicked off at full speed. Yet, the official green light for the performance came in such short notice that BSU and ASA put the entire show together in two weeks. But, if there is one thing that Black Beacon students are, it is self-sufficient. “We pushed through to have the show done because we knew the importance of allowing our fellow Black students in a PWI to feel seen, included and celebrated,” said Aminata. In the month of February, every rehearsal was crucial, and most days, performers didn’t leave the building until 6:30. We all poured out our souls during those practices, hoping that everyone would be able to see and feel our hard work on the day of the show.
Once the Thursday of February 17 arrived, and the audience poured into the auditorium at 3:45, the moment became even more real — it was time to shine. With hosts Sariya Sealey and Milciades (Milci) Gonzalez engaging the crowd in playful banter to get the energy flowing, the night’s first act began with students singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — the Black national anthem. Then, it was exhilarating to watch the rest of the night unfold from backstage as I awaited my turn to perform.
Senior Aaliyana (Aali) Garcia sang in many acts of the show. “I’ve done a lot of shows in my life, but working on this one felt completely different,” she said. “Maybe it was the people, or the fact that it was my senior year and this was one of the last shows I’d be doing. But after all we’ve been through these last two years, it felt so good to go up on stage and sing my heart out.”
So many talented Beacon students have not had the opportunity to showcase their unique skills to our school community. Especially for Black creatives at Beacon, the Black Excellence Show was a vessel to share our creative abilities with a community we see for 75% of our week. For many students, the pandemic prevented us from showcasing our self-expression through creative mediums. Now we can unleash them out into the world while incorporating our cultural backgrounds into each performance. As Aali says, “I learned a lot about my community within that one performance. I learned about their wants, needs and desires. We’ve felt so alone these past two years and that performance finally made me truly feel a part of something.”
Many students were inspired by their favorite singers, dancers, and playwrights of color, influencing the pieces they decided to showcase. For example, senior Norleah Harrington performed a Tyler Perry monologue. Senior Samantha (Sami) Feinberg sang her heart out to “Honey” by Kehlani. At the same time, Sariya and Aali teamed up with fellow senior Tara Sanchez to perform a lovable dance to “Almost There” from the iconic Disney movie, Princess and The Frog. Beacon dancers danced their hearts to songs like “Love Nwantiti” by CKay. Ms. Sam supplied the fabrics and dresses used for the African Print Showcase — fabric her aunt and mother had passed down to her. Black art inspires the next generation of Black creatives, and we are right here at Beacon.
As Norleah told me after the show, “After being away for so long, I sort of felt like I’d lost my place at Beacon, and being back on stage, and having the chance to celebrate my culture was such an amazing experience.” It made Norleah think back to when she was a freshman, considering transferring out of Beacon because she felt like she didn’t belong. However, as she said, “I decided to stay because I know students like me deserve our spots, and we are capable of anything we set our minds to.”
When it was my moment to shine after intermission, I was shaking in my Doc Martens. Since schools shut down in the spring of my freshman year, performing my poetry in the Black Excellence Show was a monumental experience. This showcase was my first time performing in a Beacon production and reading poetry I had written to a live audience. My dad, performed spoken word in high school, and his poem “My Black Son” won second place in the NAACP’s New York City Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics. As a role model for creativty, integrity, and imagination in pursuit of the performing arts, my dad inspired me to participate in the show.
I practiced my poem night and day until the performance. I even devoted my free period at the end of the day to staring at myself in the bathroom mirror and practicing the precise vocal placement of each word and the movements my body would communicate to the audience. For the time being, I had to feed off of the energy of my reflection in the mirror. Hours later, when I walked on stage, my afro held high, each word was full of richness like manuka honey, and the “joke” in my piece even made the audience laugh! Even though I could not see a single audience member, I knew everybody was listening to the words I spoke as I let my poem’s message ease into their hearts. I like to think that I channeled my dad’s artistic greatness in my piece that night.
Idalys Gutierrez felt a similar fulfillment when she performed a monologue from the play Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes, calling the Black Excellence Show the “cherry on top” of returning to Beacon after two years of remote learning. “Being a student of color at Beacon should not automatically mean that we are listened to less, or looked over, but I know that I and too many of my peers have struggled to make our voices heard over the past four years,” she expressed. “It is not enough to simply acknowledge us, we deserve to be celebrated and take up space as everyone else does. And I feel that the show really displayed the wonderful amalgamation of students and talent that exists throughout our community.”
When the show concluded, joy erupted as each group went up to take their bows. Students, parents, teachers, and friends, roared with applause and celebrated the excellence that stood before them.
After the show, there was no better feeling than seeing the members of my family cheer with pride. Before I went on stage, I chanted to myself, “I come from greatness, and I am greatness,” my Baba’s motto. He embraced me in a hug as we walked out of the auditorium. “It was great to see young people today using the same inspiration that the Black community had when I was young in the 1960s,” he later told me. “Seeing Beacon students perform so incredibly on stage during Black History Month and saying the same thing my generation preached, made me realize our culture hasn’t skipped a beat.”
The friends of many performers were in the audience as well, showing endless support, whether it meant shouting, “That’s my best friend!” when their best friend was performing on stage or recording their performance to rewatch afterward. My friends turned out to see me read my piece, and they all screamed when they saw me; amazed and in awe of my performance. They wrapped me in hugs and even brought me to my history teacher, Ms. McCreary, who attended the show. She told me that she was overjoyed to see my performance, and it was a fantastic experience to feel seen by so many people I loved that night.
Chukwuemeka, one-half of the outstanding BSU Leadership, worked along with senior co-leader Naia day and night to make sure students like myself could revel in such feelings of pride. “Organizing the show along with Naia, Jade, and the leaders of ASA association was such an amazing collaborative experience,” he told me. “The amount of love and support we received from the audience that day was truly encouraging. Overall, being a co-president of BSU has shown me how important it is for the Black community to unite and express appreciation for our identity. Learning to love ourselves should start with us and we should be our number one supporters.”
Naia also upheld this celebratory attitude. She admits, “There were times it felt it wouldn’t come together, like when we only sold 28 tickets the first week. We needed the power of “we shall overcome” those days.” However, as the matriarch of the production, Naia was a hundred places as once during rehearsals, tying the final bow to put everything together. From organizing the acts backstage with her sleek headset on to showing love and admiration to every performer, the hard work she put in along with BSU, ASA, and BDAT’s tech teams motivated every creative in the show to fight just as hard. “The Black Excellence show this year was both our sign of returning to normalcy and a celebration of the talent our students of color possess,” she continues. “We popped out on the day of the show and the school popped out in support and for that, we say thank you. Let the excellency, celebration and creativity shine on.”
Like my Baba said to me that night, “Community is love. Man can not live with bread alone. He has to have meat and vegetables.”
Every student in the Black Excellence Show relished in this same saying by using our individual talents to uphold the greatness of our community. Students of color at Beacon beautifly upheld the excellence of our past, the beauty of our present, and the dreams our future will hold.
More fantastic performers of the Black Excellence Show: Abiri Franklyn, Afcadorie Souffrant, Maki Nientao, Jade Walker, Asher Weintraub, Arjuna Matthews, Alex Williams, Cherie Pereira, Griselle Ramos, Bria Danae Johnson, Chisom Eke, Jemimah Nabugasha, Nylah Watkins, Leilynn Nieves Garcia, Marylene Bioh, Nabilatou Boureima, Zeinab Keita, Mariah Gomez, Tiffany Shawna Whyte, and Sukanya Anika Neslo.
You can attend Black Student Union Meetings on Thursdays in room 506. As well as African Student Association meetings, on Mondays after school.