PATERSON, NJ - Eboni Owens, Brandi Luck, Khalonie Forman, Clarice Forbes and Shareta Ward are five Rosa Parks 11th graders who made up the performance group “Freedom is Never Given; It is Won: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance.” They are going to compete in the 2012 Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest held from Sunday, June 10 through Thursday, June 14.
National History Day (NHD) is a highly regarded academic program. Each year more than half a million students participate in the contest by choosing historical topics related to a theme and then after doing extensive research, they present their work via originally written papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries.
Monika Salam & Frankcarlos Castro of John F. Kennedy High School, Senior 9-12 Exhibit, Group for “19th Amendment.’’
“Voices of the Harlem Renaissance” ties in with this year’s theme, “Revolution, Reaction and Reform.”
History teacher Lisa Brown helped as advisor on the presentation by the Rosa Parks students, along with drama teacher Tiffany Wilson, who said the presentation was “surprisingly delightful” because the girls were not drama majors, yet they did an amazing job.
Each student picked a famous person from the Harlem Renaissance to portray and act out live. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement spanning the 1920s and 1930s.
Brandi’s character was Paul Robeson, the singer, actor, athlete and political activist. Brandi said she had a lot of fun playing a boy. “I like playing boys,” she said. “I dressed as a boy on Halloween.”
Brandi admits being scared to compete with 99 other groups, as there are two groups from each state competing. Being in the competition was stressful for Brandi because working late on the presentation caused her to often be late for her job at McDonald’s. There were also a lot of disagreements, but in the end, they all pulled it off. During the state competition, Brandi admitted she kept messing up her lines and stuttering.
“But friends said I did perfect,” she said.
Eboni was just as stressed, mainly because she had two major competitions going on simultaneously – this one and being a finalist in the MSG Varsity talent show. Trying to remember both dance moves and lines for the performance, as well as running back and forth to practices was hectic. However, the rehearsals created a closer bond with her peers and her teacher. And making the finals has Eboni feeling, “absolutely great … astonished!”
Eboni’s character was Katherine Duham, a black dancer. Eboni is a dance major herself, which is why she chose Duham.
Voice major Khalonie performed as Billie Holiday simply because she loves singing. But even though Khalonie had a role she loved, she had her hard times like the other girls.
Not hanging out with friends and struggling to get her homework done were the sacrifices Khalonie felt she had to make in order to deliver well in her performance. While her school work didn’t suffer, she felt she “had to make it work.”
Brown said, “She’s a good student” and added that all the students have an above 3.0 average.
Clarice was so happy to hear the news that the group had made the finals. She didn’t think they were going to win, but she had faith. There was another group in the school that tried to get into the NHD finals, but didn’t make it, but according to Clarice. “We’re a family here at Rosa Parks,” she said. “You have that support!”
The character Clarice chose to be in the performance was Fats Waller, a jazz pianist, organist, composer, singer and comedic entertainer. Being a piano major herself, Clarice related.
But more important than the music, Clarice felt connected to the way black artists expressed themselves through performance arts during the time of segregation. “I wouldn’t want segregation either if I lived in that time period,” she said.
According to Clarice, the winners of the finalists will get to meet President Obama. “That would be a blessing,” she said.
Three groups of Paterson students were named alternates. They were:
Nadira Vaughan of Rosa Parks High School, Senior 9-12 Performance, Individual: “Rosa Parks; I Sat Down to Stand Up!”
Rafael Vasquez, Simone Spence, and La'krystal Singletary of Rosa Parks High School, Senior 9-12 Performance, Group: “Music and Race - The Revolution”
Mahfuzur Shipu, Cristian Guerra, and Shahin Hussain of School #7, Junior 6-8 Website, Group: “On The Brink of World's End (Cuban Missile Crisis)”
Also getting the New Jersey Historical Commission Honorable Mention were Anthony Pena, Priscilla Cordero, and Thalia Mercado of Rosa Parks High School for Senior 9-12 Performance, Group: “Wobblies Wobble But They Don't Fall Down-- The IWW and the Paterson Silk Strike”
For more information on National History Day, visit: www.nhd.org.