A Joyful Celebration of Black History and Culture
The Upper School joined together to celebrate and explore Black history at an assembly organized by Menlo’s Black Student Union (BSU). Music teacher Dr. Phillip Harris began the program with a stirring a cappella performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the Black national anthem. After members of Menlo’s BSU shared thoughts about what being Black means to them, the Diamano Coura West Dance Company—a community African arts organization, based in Oakland—delighted the crowd with a traditional drum and dance performance that filled the athletic center with the rousing sounds of percussion. Students and faculty volunteered to join them and followed their lead in a West African dance set to live drums. The program ended with spoken word by Maxwell ’26 and a panel discussion with Menlo’s BSU members and faculty.
Menlo BSU President Colby ’23, who organized the event, said, “I thought it was really important to bring in the real culture because most people don’t know that here. People don’t know about African drum and dance. People don’t know the energy, how it feels. I wanted to bring that aspect to Menlo because I don’t think it’s been done before.”
Dr. Harris was joined by History Department Chair Carmen Borbon, and math teachers Coltrane Hunt ’06 and John Norris, to engage BSU members (Maxwell ’26, Parker ’24, Ralston ’23, Avery ’23, and Aaliyah ’24) in a wide-ranging discussion about their individual experiences both on and off campus. The panelists were asked honest questions about what it means to be Black today, how students celebrate and continue their own family traditions, and where they find pride and inspiration from their heritage.
“Instead of just looking back through history, this is a real celebration of where we are today,” added Harris. “This is Black History Month and just this past week LeBron James broke the all-time NBA scoring record and Beyoncé has now won more Grammys than any other artist in history. So, it’s interesting to ask about what these accomplishments mean and what role models exist today, for this next generation of young people. Taking Colby’s lead, we decided to go in that direction and keep the assembly contemporary.”
“I hope they feel that Menlo has a real Black community,” Colby added. “That was why I also had the faculty get involved. I wanted to show that we are here, that we are a force, and that we belong.”