Student Spotlight for Black History Month: ACHS Theatre Department
A platform for social justice has grown from the partnership between the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Theatre Department and the ACHS Black Student Union (BSU). Both groups came together to take part in the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project last year. Their latest collaborative effort is the Black History Month Black Box Theatre Lecture Series. This year’s theme is “Black Resistance, Remembrance and 21st Century Revolution.”
"Through the Black Student Union, this awesome group of students and advisors provides a space for ACHS students and guest lecturers to have socially conscious conversations that are honest, fact-based and eye-opening, which in turn, transforms anyone and everyone who participates in this life-changing experience," said ACHS English and Theatre Teacher Leslie Jones.
These interactive discussions among guest speakers, students and teachers feature topics that include a documentary on the Student Remembrance Project Pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama last fall.
"The Black Box lecture series speaks to the importance of engaging with our collective history because of all of our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research," said ACHS Government and History Teacher Ra Alim Shabazz, who also chairs the Black History Month Planning Committee.
Nathan Desta, BSU Executive Board member and student actor, believes, “BSU and the Black Box Theatre lets Black students know that they are valid in their needs as human beings.”
Student Stage Manager Katherine Bectel said that, since the partnership onset, the Theatre Department has put on productions like “Facing Our Truth: 10-Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race, and Privilege” and “Chicken & Biscuits” as a way to elevate Black stories. “Outlets like theater and the BSU give students a platform to express their ideas and make change,” added Bectel.
“There’s a lot you can say in a play to unsettle white supremacy and fragility that speaking otherwise would be dangerous or misinterpreted,” said Yahney-Marie Sangare, BSU vice president and student actor. She says BSU and Black Box Theatre both provide a safe gathering space for Black students and she believes that Black History Month “provides a platform for Black narratives and stories to be appreciated and heard in a formalized manner.”
The ACHS Theatre Department has been working on student-written plays for Black History Month to highlight the history and legacy of Black artists as well as the future of a more diverse theater.
“Theater gives students the opportunity to explore difficult subjects and themes through performance and stagecraft,” said Bectel. Looking back on history, she says students have always been an integral part of bringing about change. Bectel feels students should be encouraged to discuss issues like equity, racism and bias in order to continue toward a better future.
“Students need to let their needs be heard and taken care of because how are we supposed to create and define our future when we can’t be taken care of and appreciated in the present,” added Desta.
Students understand that, in order to help define their futures, they must let their “voices” be heard.
“Empowering students with autonomy and speech certainly allows for certain issues to come to light that others may be blind to,” said Sangare. Bectel added that part of achieving equity for all means not just focusing on one group or issue because people of color are disproportionately affected by related issues. She believes “Conversations about transportation issues, economic disparities, post-secondary education, etc., all affect and are affected by race.”
Black History Month is a time to recognize the contributions of African Americans to Alexandria’s collective culture and how Black Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression. This month also serves as a time to look ahead to how our footprint may impact our community’s future.
“If we do not understand our history, we have no identity, no self and no community,” said Sangare. Bectel noted, “Our community is built on its past, and only through acknowledging it can we heal.” Understanding the history of our community helps us move forward in a positive way.
“You cannot create and define your future, without knowing, understanding and learning about your past,” said Desta.
- Alexandria City High School
- black history