WEST ORANGE, NJ – The annual West Orange High School (WOHS) Black History Scholarship dinner held earlier this month connected the community to the past, present and future of the black experience both locally and worldwide through words, song and dance.
Guest speaker Lawrence Hamm offered a powerful historical perspective of black history in New Jersey, describing the state’s use of slaves and hesitation to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. He described the Emancipation Proclamation as a tool used to recruit slaves looking to gain their freedom, and how it added the needed boost to the Union Army to win the Civil War.
“We still wrestle with inclusion and exclusion, when the future of America is a pluralistic society,” said Hamm. “The beginning of Black History is the beginning of human history, and there is only one history of race, and that is the human race.”
Hamm advocated for the inclusion of all cultures and races in historical teaching, saying, “We should not rest until all histories are included.”
Several musical performances were interspersed throughout the evening celebrating the musical accomplishments of black musicians: “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Satin Doll,” (Duke Ellington), “Strange Fruit,” (Billie Holiday), “Summertime,” (Porgy and Bess), “Misty,” (Erroll Garner”) and “All I Could Do Was Cry” and “At Last,” by Etta James. The Jubilee Choir, under the direction of Michelle Brown, offered gospel tunes.
The audience was also entertained by performances from dancer Gabrielle Rembert and the girls and boys step teams, while Olivia Ridley, Kai McCall and Mariana Simpson recited original spoken-word poems.
“At WOHS, we are a family,” said Principal Hayden Moore. “Our diversity is our strength, and we celebrate all our students. It’s important to recognize the accomplishments of those whose shoulders we stand upon, and our annual Black History celebration does that.”
The event was organized by the WOHS Student Council, and all monies raised will be used to provide scholarships for graduating seniors.