Monday, March 3, 2008


We can all relate to this because --whether you have a child or not--99% of us were children once ourselves.

Your kid comes home and you ask, "What happened at school today?"
Unless some girl was whacked in the head at lunch with a flying chocolate pudding, invariably, the answer is a standard, "Nuthin'!"

This happened recently in regards to my son Andrew's literature class. In recognition of black history month, his class was assigned a project on the flowering or rebirth of intellectualism and culture in American black people. This movement occurred roughly from 1919 till 1935. It was called, the Harlem Renaissance or the Black Literary Renaissance.

Today, Harlem is a predominately black slum in upper Manhattan. What most people don't realize is that it was once a thriving community of middle and upper middle-class blacks. Harlem attracted famous African Americans artists, activists and philosophers. During that time, the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, (NAACP) and the National Urban League were founded there.

The ultimate goal of the renaissance was to not only prove to the world that blacks were entitled to equality but that they were capable of doing anything that anyone else could do and that they deserved their own cultural niche within mainstream America.

So I find out through channels that my son is researching Jamaican born poet/civil rights activist Claude McKay. Andrew showed me his findings and read me some of McKay's poetry. He and I discussed some of McKay's imagery. I came away feeling enlightened and Andrew had a fuller understanding of McKay's message. He received an excellent closed....

Weeks go by and I ask Andrew, "What happened at school today?"
Naturally, he says, "Nuthin'."
A little later I see him feverishly writing and ask, "What's up?"
"Oh I have to re-write all this dialog for Thursday (February 21st)."

It was at that point, I found out the true scope of Andrew's Black History Month project and how his subject, Claude McKay fit into it.

Each student not only researched an individual from the Harlem Renaissance but they were required to work in committees, write out skits and then perform them. In this play-acting, their characters would come alive and interact with each other to identify their accomplishments.

In sets of three, eighteen prominent blacks including: Billie Holiday, Booker T. Washington, Louie Armstrong, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and W. E. B. DuBois were portrayed. These skits were inter-spliced with a multi-media production orchestrated by the advanced literature teacher Ms. Barbara Rodilosso. To add to the realism, some of the students went to the trouble to wear clothing consistent of the 20's and 30's.





Performed in the school library, this hour-long presentation was shown four times throughout the day, enabling the entire GTMS student body to see it. The show opened with a short film of Harlem street scenes during the renaissance with an establishing narration over it. Then between the students' vignettes, a four-piece combo (featuring three teachers and a parent) played live music of the period. Sound bites and slides were also incorporated into the show. Additionally, one of the students sang Billie Holliday's, "Stormy Weather" and Ella Fitzgerald's, "A Tisket a Tasket." The house was brought down when four students spontaneously paired-off and danced along to the music.

I admit, I attended by accident. my son led me to believe that it was just a simple in-class project, (in reality, I came in only to discuss my own writing with Ms. Rodilosso). I'm not sure why the word never got out to the public (very few non-students saw it) because it was a learning experience and a terrific show.

To avoid missing out on great things at school, grill your kid every day and never accept "nuthin'" as an answer! You wouldn't want to waste an opportunity to be entertained and educated at such a high level.

To see some event photos go to the Galloway Township newspaper, "The Current" at:

For more details about the Harlem Renaissance, either GOOGLE it or visit wikipedia.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved your bit on "S--- on a shingle," I actually cracked up.