Education

How Cedar Rapids Washington High School celebrated Black History Month

With song, dance, poetry, personal testimony and much pride

CEDAR RAPIDS — Singing, dancing, stepping and spoken word poetry filled the gym at Washington High School for an assembly celebrating Black History Month.

On Thursday, students heard from classmates, teachers, parents and residents who reflected on the contributions of African Americans to society, acknowledged the past and current struggles of African Americans, and sought to inspire students.

This year’s program, called “Rise Up!” is the third such celebration at Washington in recent years.

“This theme worked perfectly because it highlights the fact that no matter what African Americans have and still endure, we rise up,” said Sarah Swayze, special education teacher and one of the event organizers.

“Our black history assembly is a school event that we do to honor the rich history and culture of black people.”

Washington High School typically has nine or 10 school assemblies a year, and those involved with this year’s black history celebration credit Principal John Cline for making it possible.

“We could not have done this without our principal, Mr. Cline,” Swayze said. “He came to us and suggested that we get this event started. He has worked with us diligently every year to let us do this program.”

Associate Principal Darius Ballard agreed.

“With a student population that is about 25 percent black and a significant number of black staff members, there is no reason not to do this,” he said.

Assistant Principal Valerie Nyberg shared personal testimony — something she had not shared with many before — in the hopes of letting students see they don’t have to be a product of tough circumstances.

“Seeing her share that in front of all these kids, that was a big moment,” said Ballard, who emceed the event.

“We are always looking for sympathetic collaborators, and we’d love for other people from the community to get involved,” Ballard said. Plans for next year, he added, already begun.

Several groups of step dancers performed, including students from Johnson STEAM Academy, the Warrior Steppers — a group created about three years ago when Washington’s Black History Month celebration started — and a group of teacher steppers, which sent the crowd wild with cheers.

Senior Diamond Roundtree presented a poem and performed with the Warrior Steppers. She was excited to see the day come together after all the planning that went into it.

“We really wanted to make this special,” she said. “We only get one day out of the whole year to express our blackness in this way.”

Roundtree said it’s a day she won’t soon forget.

“When I was up on stage looking out at everyone in the crowd, sharing the concept that black is beautiful, that we are all beautiful, that was incredible,” she said.

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“The fact that I had the opportunity to stand up there and do that when that wouldn’t have happened in the past. That’s a moment I’ll always remember.”

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