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B-B celebrates Black History Month with a day of special guests and presentations

On February 10, Byron-Bergen Elementary School students in grades 4 through 6 participated in Black History Month programs. Special guests Womba Africa, a drumming and dance troupe from Ghana, local artist Shawn Dunwoody, and Byron-Bergen seniors Siomara Caballero, Hannah Catalino, and Miriam Tardy met with each grade-level before all the students gathered to watch Remember the Titans.

Womba Africa recently traveled from Ghana to audition for the television show, America’s Got Talent. During their visit to Byron-Bergen Elementary School, they performed several pieces of music and choreographer Nii Tetteh Quarshie invited students and staff to dance. 

Founder Fredrick Quaye Odai showed the students a map of Ghana and its position on the Atlantic coast of Africa. He then showed the students a traditional drum of Ghana, the kpanlogo. "It is very similar to drums in Latin America. That is because of the slave trade. Our traditions became part of that culture when our people were taken across the ocean in the slave trade." 

Before the presentation ended, students had the opportunity to play instruments and jam with the group.

Shawn Dunwoody is a visual artist and social activist. Last August, he helped create a Rochester-based alternative to Comic-Con called Super City which was free and open to the public. For the event, Dunwoody created a series of local super heroes called the Legion of Legends which includes local historical figures Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and George Eastman. His characters fight villains like Trinity, a character encompassing racism, mis-education, and poverty. Life-sized cutouts of the three super heroes stood behind him as he described his creative process.

“There was a point in time when women were considered property and didn’t have the right to vote,” said Dunwoody. “She (Susan B. Anthony) was able to stand up to those bullies and be strong, and be tough. So, what do you think a super power would be for Susan B. Anthony?”

“Strength?” a student replied.

“Yes! I gave her super strength!” said Dunwoody pointing to the life-sized cutout of his Susan B. Anthony character, raising a boulder over her head with bulging muscles. 

At the end of his presentation, Dunwoody offered to stamp each student’s hand with the Legion of Legends logo, a single petal from the Rochester city logo, inviting each student to be a hero against injustice.

The final activity for the day was a screening of the 2000 historical drama, Remember the Titans. Before the movie, three High School seniors, Siomara Caballero, Hannah Catalino, and Miriam Tardy, presented an overview of the history of the integration of sports in America and discussed segregation and how it extended to sports, citing a mid-1900s Byron-Bergen yearbook as an example.

“What sports do you play?” asked Caballero. “Now imagine that you were not allowed on the team because of the way you look.”

The students, all varsity athletes, then played video footage of black athletes who have broken barriers including Serena Williams, Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Simone Biles, Jesse Owens, and Muhammad Ali.

The seniors closed out their presentation on an energetic note by sharing the team cheers for the Girls Varsity Basketball team, the Varsity Cross-Country team, and the Varsity Volleyball team.

“We are extremely fortunate to have presenters who excite and inspire our students to learn more,” said Byron-Bergen Principal Brian Meister. “The credit goes to our dedicated staff who work tirelessly, every year, to ensure that Black History Month really is a celebration and an opportunity for social growth.”

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