Striving and thriving

YAC student leaders organize Black History Month Assembly

YAC+leaders+celebrate+after+the+conclusion+of+the+Black+History+Month+assembly+on+February+22.

Dahlia Kuzemka

YAC leaders celebrate after the conclusion of the Black History Month assembly on February 22.

Matthew Chen and Kai Lincke

 On February 22, 2022, the Young Activists Coalition lifted their voices together during their Black History Month assembly. The assembly, which was held in the gym after being rescheduled, featured poetry, musical and dance performances, and a video compiled by YAC members. 

The assembly celebrated black culture through dances and music, as well as sharing the perspectives of Strath Haven’s black community. The assembly was enlivening, educational, and student-run. YAC leaders spent two months planning the event and making the video shown during the assembly. 

Juniors Collin Woodland, Nailah Sweeting, and Asanne Wade presented an informational outlook on the black community, the “deprioritization of Black Americans” in their presentation titled “We Strive, We Thrive”. 

Following the presentation, the dance team, which consisted of juniors Dyvne Lee, Aïssata Koné, Michaela Santisi, Amelia Andrews-Sullivan, and Nailah Sweeting, performed choreographed dances inspired by Ghanan, South African, Nigerian, Congolese, and Gabonian cultures. 

“We chose songs based on how influential the artists were during their time,” Lee said. “Push it”, “Rhythm Within Us”, as well as songs by Beyoncé were among some of the songs chosen. 

The assembly also highlighted the creative talents of Strath Haven students, featuring a musical duet performed by Sweeting and Robinson-Leary of “Strange Fruit”, by Billie Holiday, and a rendition of “Dinosaurs in the Hood” by Danez Smith, recited by Koné. The last component of the assembly depicted a video where black students discussed their personal passions and creative endeavors. The students interviewed included Ell Perry, Anjali Robinson-Leary, Collin Woodland, Emmanuela Sackey, Jaiden Whitfield, and Nikki MacDonald. 

With the goal of “portraying the black experience at Strath Haven multi-dimensionally,” Collin Woodland explains that the assembly spotlighted black voices in a creative manner. 

While the assembly was conducted for Black History Month, the performances were also meant to reflect the issues that YAC had already been fighting for within their club, such as striving for a more diverse curriculum that celebrates the cultures of marginalized communities. 

As Woodland stated in his presentation, “These issues are not necessarily old. They’re fairly recent, and more importantly, ingrained in the fact of our society.” 

YAC hopes to change this narrative. Having advocated for the new social justice course in the curriculum the previous year, YAC also hopes to contribute to the school’s first “International Day” on March 24. 

Along with its sister club CoSaTide (Council of Students Advocating for Transparency, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity), YAC is at the forefront of school diversification, working on community building through the development of certain school policies, such as one that Koné reports addresses “hate speech and harassment.” Though YAC members are proud to help improve school culture, they express that it can be challenging to lead the change as a student. 

“Making change is extremely stressful. The change we want to see shouldn’t be in the hands of students, but in administration and staff,” Andrews-Sullivan said. “Our school doesn’t show much appreciation for its diversity, [so] The Young Activists Coalition wanted to do it themselves, since we’ve been trying to [suggest] new ways of diversifying curriculum and expression within the school.” 

Club leaders aimed to highlight students’ experiences and accentuate their talents. 

“We’re always trying to crowdsource for creativity,” Robinson-Leary said. “We want to give a platform for people to perform their creative powers, whether it’s art or music or whatever… and we showcase them in the best way that we possibly can.” 

Whether it’s planning for the upcoming International Day or for a presentation for the middle school, YAC has no intention of slowing down. Students involved in YAC are driven by a continual frustration and desire to see change. 

“If the payout is seeing other kids not have to struggle with what we have, it’s worth it,” Andrews-Sullivan concluded. 

Video by Video & Broadcast Production students, spring 2022