WEST ORANGE, NJ – West Orange High School’s (WOHS) 2019 Black History Month Scholarship Dinner, held on Friday night at WOHS, touched hearts and minds, brought laughter and tears and paid homage to the black men and women that are a part of shared American history.

Black History Month grew out of “Negro History Week,” created by Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans in 1927. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. In 2002, New Jersey passed The Amistad Law, requiring public schools to teach black history in order to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of black Americans.

The members of WOHS Student Council organize this event each year to not only celebrate Black History Month, but to also raise money for scholarships for graduating seniors.  

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"These students worked tirelessly to create an event that showcases the talents of WOHS and how we celebrate Black History Month here,” said student council advisor Catherine Connors. "Selam (student council president) and Mike (vice president) are a dynamic team and were able to flawlessly host the event. I could not be prouder of all our students and how hard they worked to create this amazing event.” 

Student Council President Selam Woldai and Vice President Mike Petros served as hosts along with Principal Hayden Moore, who led the crowd in a conga line and a “Soul Train” dance line.

“We recognize all history at WOHS, and tonight we recognize black history,” said Moore. “I am proud to be the principal and get to work with these kids every day.”

Musical performances, including a special presentation from the Jubilee Choir, were interspersed throughout the evening. Students also performed original spoken-word poetry, and the girls and boys step teams ended the evening on a high note.

The evening’s Keynote Speaker was Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, founder of the GrassROOTS Community Foundation and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"Dr. Janice Johnson Dias and the GrassRoots Community Foundation has been a supporter of our schools and helped to install and fund Green Ribbon Week, a mental health awareness week at WOHS,” said Connors. “We could not be happier that she accepted our invite to speak at this event.”

During her speech, Johnson Dias emphasized that it is “critically important that we all seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black folk in every area of life throughout our history.”

She went on to reflect upon the achievements of both well-known and lesser-known black people, including Woodson, Shirley Jackson, Lewis Lattimer, Marie Van Britton Brown, Garrett Morgan and Madame CJ Walker.

“How can you value black lives if you don’t know black history?” she asked. “By diminishing the contributions of black people it diminishes all of us…Black history is American history; it is world history.”

All of the above photos were provided by Cynthia Cumming, Communications Coordinator for the West Orange School District.