By Curt Yeomans
A group of nine female Babb Middle School students stood before a parent assembly at the school on Monday night and, one by one, recited quotes from famous African-American women like Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey.
The school's seventh-grade dance students then performed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham" dance routine.
Later, the school's chorus students sang Michael Jackson's song, "Beat It."
It was all part of the school's annual black history production. Many schools throughout Clayton County, like Babb, will utilize a variety of methods this month, Black History Month, to teach students about the contributions African Americans have made to society.
"We do these types of events so they will know the history," said Babb Middle School Principal Felicia Brown. "In this month, our African-American history is brought forward and celebrated."
According to the U.S. Library of Congress' web site, African-American history has been celebrated throughout the month of February since 1976, but the roots of Black History Month go back a half century before that.
Its beginnings can be traced back to 1925, when historian Carter G. Woodson, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History that he founded, established Negro History Week, according to the web site. The web site reports Woodson created a week devoted to African-American history with the intention of raising awareness about the contributions of African Americans.
That history ranges from George Washington Carver's scientific research on peanuts, to Mae Jemison being the first African-American female astronaut to go into space; from Frederick Douglass being nominated for the U.S. vice presidency in 1872, to Barack Obama being elected as the first African-American U.S. president in 2008.
"We want to teach our students about those people who are trailblazers, and made the opportunities they [the students] have available to them," said Joannie Griffey, an assistant principal at Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School, which mounted a re-worked Black History Month-themed version of the "Lion King," called the "Jungle King," at the Clayton County Public Schools Performing Arts Center.
Many schools, including Babb and King, are conducting daily Black History Month trivia questions to encourage their students to learn about famous African Americans.
"They are really excited about it, because they learn something new that they never thought about before," Griffey said.
Brown said the study of African-American history, or the study of any ethnic group's history, should not be limited to a single month, though. "We try not to make black history a one-month celebration," she said. "We try to celebrate all of the ethnicities in our school throughout the school year."
Babb Middle School eighth-grader, Breunna Weathersby, 13, said she found inspiration in the quotes that were read at her school's Black History Month program on Monday. "Some of the quotes are quotes I can use to better myself," she said.
Fellow eighth-grader, Anita Vongsenesouk, 14, said she learned "no matter what race you are, you can do anything if you put yourself into the mindset that you will do it" by studying the lives of pioneers such as Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Several schools in Clayton County have events planned to celebrate Black History Month, according to "School Beats," a list of upcoming school events provided to members of the media by Clayton County Public Schools' communications department.
Some of the upcoming events include:
* A presentation by an African-American storyteller during a school assembly at Tara Elementary School on Feb. 17.
* A "Remember the Time" black history presentation at River's Edge Elementary School on Feb. 24, at 7 p.m.
* Black history programs at Anderson Elementary School on Feb. 24; M.D. Roberts Middle School on Feb. 25, and at Lake Ridge Elementary School, also on Feb. 25.
* An African-American History Quiz Bowl, at Suder Elementary School, on Feb. 26.