African American Heritage in living color

Lee Central Middle School (LCMS) is abuzz with excitement as African American Heritage month gets underway. It’s a school wide effort too. The teachers, students, and even the administrators are all taking part in an integrated curriculum which involves the arts, engineering concepts (math), and history. Art in grades 6-8 this month involves paying homage to the memory of those who fought for civil rights and reverences those who are still championing the cause, within the “Migration” theme provided by LCMS’s principal Patrice Holmes. Art Teacher Sheneka Jackson-Kinsey says it has been exciting seeing everyone join together in celebration.

“She (principal) told us she wanted us to come up with door designs for African-American history,” says Jackson-Kinsey. “I wanted the students to create something that is (uniquely) them so we came up with the posters as a start.”

Jackson-Kinsey crafted silhouettes of protesters with outstretched hands and affixed the students’ artwork to the figures. They now hang on the windows and doors of her classroom at LCMS. As for the other doors throughout the school, they too have images which reflect the past. It’s about awareness, says Holmes.

“We wanted all the kids to be involved and engaged,” says Holmes. “We felt that creating (concepts) around a certain theme would enhance the learning. We wanted an atmosphere of appreciation for the history of (African-American) people in the school.”

For Holmes that migration was the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the South to the North. An unsatisfactory economic climate and egregious segregationist laws precipitated the flight to the north where blacks took advantage of the need for manufacturing workers. For others it looked more like the 1963 March on Washington or Chicago Freedom Movement, which is echoed in their artwork. Whatever the move or movement, there was some sort of migration that took place and the students wasted no time identifying those that resonated with them most.

As part of their assignment, they were also asked to choose an African American artist to research. Among the list of names the students had to choose from were Barkley Hendricks, contemporary painter who made revolutionary contributions to black portraiture and conceptualism with life-sized oil paintings of African Americans; Alvin D. Loving, an African American expressionist painter known for his extreme abstraction where he created fabric constructions and large paper collages; and Bob Thompson, an African American figurative painter known for his bold and colorful canvases.

Most of the artists aren’t considered household names but were sighted as having a significant impact on the Civil Rights Movement. There were questions hurled throughout the room in inquisition.

“What did he (artist) do that was so special?” “What medium did he use?”

These are all a part of what they should be doing at this point, says Jackson-Kinsey, who hesitantly quietened the class because of their eagerness to learn, she says. The culmination of the lesson this week is artwork by the student that resembles that of their chosen artist.

This gives them practice with medium and technique, says Jackson-Kinsey.

“This shows how the work of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement has made its way to us,” says Holmes. “We are benefitting from their work.”

LCMS will hold its African American Heritage program on Feb. 26 at 9 a.m.; Dennis Elementary on Feb. 28 at 9 a.m.; Lower Lee Elementary School on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.; West Lee Elementary School on Feb. 21 at 8:30 a.m.; and the district-wide program is scheduled for Feb. 27 at 6 p.m.