By Saniya Kamat (III)

On February 5, Pingry had its annual assembly celebrating Black History Month. The preparation process for this assembly was a monumental undertaking which involved the collaborative effort of faculty, staff, families, and students. 

In light of the glaring racial injustice which occurred throughout 2020, including the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the assembly sought to display Black strength and unity during these difficult times. Ms. Bria Barnes, the Middle School Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) who helped lead the assembly’s planning process, stated that the student organizers, “wanted to show the joy, happiness, and strength of the Pingry community despite the trauma and hardships of the year.”

The final product was a combination of segments created by students and faculty. Ms. Barnes then went on to edit all of the videos together, thus producing the 50-minute assembly video.

The assembly started with a rendition of the song “Stand Up,” performed by Cynthia Erivo from the movie Harriet. Performances of the poems “I, Too” by Langston Hughes and “You Came, Too” by Nikki Giovanni were accompanied by pictures of Pingry’s Black community members.

Next, Hanah Abdi (I), Jordyn “J.J.” Jefferson (I), and Jordan “J-Mac” McDonald (I) performed a powerful dance to the song “Formation” by Beyoncé.

Black-owned businesses were highlighted and shared by their respective entrepreneurs; the featured companies included names such as Dirty Soles Footwear Group, Sounds of A&R (S.O.A.R.), and Al-Shams Abayas. Afterwards, William Francis (II) talked about the Black artist Titus Kaphar. 

To spotlight Black cuisine, several freshmen filmed a cook-off called “Smackin’ or Lackin,’” which was hosted by Kennedy Sharperson (III), Ngozi Nnaeto (III), and Josh Woodford (III). Competitors included Dami Shote (III), Monroe Russel (III), and Aiden Blow (III). Mark Mason (III) was eventually declared the winner with his classic Southern dish of collard greens.

The cooking show segued into the 2021 Black History Month fashion show, presented by the Black Student Union. This fashion show displayed popular styles from Black culture decade by decade from the 1970s to 2020 and finished by featuring outfits influenced by Afrofuturism.

What followed was a meaningful discussion between Substitute Teacher Mr. Marquis Ormond and Associate Athletic Director and DEI Coordinator for Athletics, Ms. Taunita Stephenson, about the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. They explained that cultural appropriation is only doing or wearing something because it is considered a trend while cultural appreciation is digging into its roots and understanding the origins.

Caleb Polanco (I) shared his thoughts on the harsh truth about the Black community’s difficulties with systemic racism and injustice before the assembly ended on a more positive note, with an informational and appreciative segment detailing the evolution of Black hair through time.

This was the first time Pingry’s Black History Month assembly has featured families and brought in the outside community, and as a result, took viewers on an educational and celebratory journey through Black culture as a whole.