Black History Month brings students, community together

WMS, historical society host themed presentations

Monroe Township is celebrating diversity this February.

The students at Williamstown Middle School will have a school-wide assembly on Feb. 19 where a speaker will teach students about the post-slavery era, including black Wall Street, the Harlem Renaissance and art, rhythm and blues. The presenter, Taja Riley, will show the students a video to coincide with this theme.

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The speaker will then move into the civil rights movement where she will discuss Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The students will be asked true or false questions to make for an interactive experience.

The presentation culminates with current events, including the election of Barack Obama, dance and hip hop culture and entertainment. Riley will ask the students to name that actor or actress to get the students involved.

Each grade level will see the same assembly in different periods. The sixth graders will go in second period, seventh graders in third period, fifth graders in fifth period and eighth graders in sixth period.

Because the periods are only 40-minutes in length, assistant principal Jimmy Collins acknowledged getting all of the students to the auditorium and settling them down can be quite the challenge. According to Collins, this can leave Riley with between 30 and 33 minutes to complete the assembly.

Collins liked the flow of the assembly, showing the progression made from the post-slavery era to today.

“The biggest thing with kids nowadays, we have to connect it,” he said. “We have to tell them the reason we’re here is because all of this happened.”

The assembly isn’t the only way WMS is celebrating diversity this February. For example, Collins said eighth-grade social studies teachers are teaching about the civil rights movement in the post-Civil War time.

“We have to teach our kids to be college and career ready,” Collins said. “To be a successful citizen you need to understand diversity. Diversity is what’s fueling everything nowadays. We all should be looking at each other as everyone has something to bring to the table.”

While Collins is proud of how far the school has come since he started doing Black History Month presentations nine years ago, he acknowledged there is still work to do.

“We need to foster these positive relationships. We’re not done yet. We’re certainly not done yet,” he said.

For residents of the township who wish to learn more about the historical aspects of Black History Month, the historical commission will host a presentation on the Underground Railroad on Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. at the Pfeiffer Community Center.

Linda Shockley, the director of the Peter Mott House in Lawnside, will do a video presentation and a question and answer session afterward.

“We hope to generate interest for anyone in any part of the community who has an interest in history,” president of the historical society, Susanne McKee, said. “We’re fortunate to have Ms. Shockley coming.”

In addition to the presentation, light refreshments will be offered and some crafters will be attendance. The event is free, but there will be donation jars for the Mott House, according to McKee.

“We’re grateful Williamstown has such a fine community center,” McKee said. “Good parking, good facilities. We like to take whatever opportunity we have to use it and bring people there.”

The historical society meets on the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Ireland Hofer House on Main Street in front of the Pfeiffer center.

Anthony is a graduate of Rowan University and a proud freelance contributor for 08108 magazine. He has past bylines in The Sun Newspapers and the Burlington County Times.
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