Thursday, February 28, 2008

All This and an International Students' Club Luncheon Too

We have had quite the theme of brotherly love here at The high school today. This morning was the program-formerly-known-as the Black History Program, now called The Brotherhood Program. My biological kids were calling theirs the same thing, so this must have been handed down from on high. Anyway, it was actually really good. And since most of you don't get the privilege of spending your days inside a MCS high school, I'm going to describe it for you. I know you're excited!

As we came into the auditorium, images from a Discovery Learning civil rights documentary were being shown on the giant screen on stage, to the accompaniment of our jazz band's alto sax and another instrument I don't know how to identify because, like, I totally was not a band geek in high school! Once all 1700 students were seated by homeroom and settled, the montage was stopped and a student gave some introductory remarks, followed by presentation of the colors and pledge of allegiance by the ROTC (I don't participate in this but I always stand respectfully). Then we all sang the first stanza of "the black national anthem," Lift Every Voice and Sing. I know this song now because it has been sung in so many programs at schools where I've taught, but it was probably the first time in too many years to count that I have had the experience of singing along with a large group of people. I can't sing, in case you were wondering. But it's always touching to me, the way the kids are so familiar with each unusual inflection, exaggerating with the rising and lowering voices as they build to the ending. It was nice.

Next a group of about seven students of multicultural variety came out with candles and performed a...skit, sort of, called "Unity Circle." This consisted of a girl I had in my class briefly at the start of the year blowing me away by singing a song called "Soul Has No Color" that she helped write and perform a few years ago as part of the Echoes of Truth Choir. She sang in an incredible voice, a cappella, with remarkable spunk and confidence, and meanwhile the other students on stage lit each others' candles and repeated the words "I am you, you are me" to each other and the audience as they did so. That part was a little cheesey, but the song was great.

Next, a group of six refugees from Barundi who have been in this country and at school for about two months came out. One of them played an African drum and they all sang a song in their native language in loud, clear, un-self-conscious voices. Based on their easy familiarity with the song and the different parts that each girl took, I would guess it was a song from their childhoods. I was really worried about how all the other kids would respond to their performance, but once they started, you could have heard a pin drop. They finished to an explosion of sincere applause. (Later, someone in a class was talking about how those girls smelled, but a boy countered by saying "That joint was bumping, though." Which is obviously high praise for their song.)

After that, a small group of seniors took turns at the lectern recounting milestones from the Civil Rights movement, each one beginning and ending by saying "Dream, Believe, Achieve." Next, our excellent mixed choir came out and sang "Thank You Jesus." I can pretty well imagine the image most of you will have when you think of a predominantly black teenage choir singing a gospel song, but the reality was probably about as far from what you'd imagine as it could be. Our choir travels this country kicking the ass of every other high school choir they meet--rich and poor, public and private; we beat them out in every competition there is. Imagine a group of African-American teenagers, two white guys, and maybe one or two white girls, wearing tuxes and black floor-length gowns, backs perfectly erect, heads straining forward, faces contorting in the way of the classically-trained singer without a trace of self-consciousness. They sing with no musical accompaniment about 95% of the time, and at one point today the sopranos sustained a single background note for at least three straight minutes. And yes, this is public school, and yes, I said "Thank You Jesus." I've taught at schools where there was prayer at every meeting, basketball game, program, and assembly, and my current school is probably the least offender against the separation of church and state of any school where I've taught. But you are just not going to have a black history program with no Jesus. I've accepted it and moved on. Later the smaller and more highly-competitive concert choir came back out and sang "In My Father's House There Are Many Mansions."

There were also a few solo performances, including the obligatory recitation of "Phenomenal Woman" and an interpretive dance by a brave girl who mostly left me thinking "Damn, I wish my arms looked like that!" And once again, she made it without being laughed at, which made me proud. Because really, it was kind of something you would expect that many teenagers packed into an auditorium to laugh at.

In the end, the principal decided to make a few remarks, which made me think "Oh Crap" and wish that I prayed, so I could pray for him to please god not say anything stupid. He did OK. He chose to use the moment to appeal to the collected student body to curb the recent and unusual outbreak of fights we've had this week. This was a continuation on the theme of Taking Back This Building that started with the bitching out we got in faculty meeting yesterday. He sort of uncomfortably tried to chide the kids for possibly forgetting the struggles and sacrifices that were made to get them here, but mostly redeemed himself by saying he knows he's a white male and can't really understand those struggles. But mostly, I wished he'd just praised the kids for being so well-behaved and sent them back to class.


Unknown said...

That's about a yard of yar.

Shannon said...

that sounds great, sassy.

Rita said...

Wow. We don't have school assemblies like that here. Our big claim to diversity in my St. Paul suburb is--Hey, who are you calling homogenous, look, we're not ALL blonde.

That's really cool, Sassy.

Sweet Sassy Molassy said...

It's hard for me to imagine not having big Black History programs here. Our whole district is something like 90% African-American. There are a handful of schools in the Memphis City Schhol System that are more racially diverse, but we have separate county and city goverments and school systems here, and within the city, most of the white kids either go to private schools or a handful of Optional (magnet) schools. My school is one of the top three public high schools in Memphis, and we do have some white kids (maybe 50 in the whole school, on the high end), about an equal number of Hispanic students, and smaller groups of Middle eastern, Asian, and African ESL students.

L said...

We, of course had a black history program at our school, and W had one at hers last night. I truly enjoy them. But I am prone to crying at any kind of sentimental thing, even if it's a little cheesy. I sometimes wonder if the kids really "get" how much their anscestors really went through. I think I'll write about this topic on my blog. Hope you don't mind me stealing the topic.