Visualizing Black History

Upper School coordinates contributions to gallery art wall in honor of Black History Month.

Upon entering the Upper School and walking down the hallway past the main office, visitors are surrounded by the words and faces of notable African Americans in history. Look to the right and one will see the accomplishments of abolitionist Frederick Douglas; look to the left and one will see the work of director, screenwriter, and film producer Ava DuVernay.

The visually stunning project was initiated by Upper School students who wanted to create something for the community to reflect upon in honor of Black History Month. Upper School History teacher Elizabeth Simpson met with a small group of students and faculty in January to brainstorm ideas on how to accomplish their goal.

“We opened up the discussion to a diverse group to gather all the input we could get,” she said. “Anyone who was passionate about contributing could be involved.”

The group decided to create a gallery wall of educational posters, artwork, and photographs to share the stories of African Americans who have made an impact on history. Anyone from all three divisions could contribute a piece to hang on the wall, be it a quote, sketch, or poem. Middle and Upper School Librarian Melissa Freed assisted students in using the library makerspace’s poster printer, and Upper School photographer teacher John Alley helped students print large-scale, high quality photographs.

The pieces are hung in chronological order of when the subject was alive. Senior Emmett Coleman, who was one of the students who conceptualized the project, said this was a key characteristic in how the group envisioned the gallery.

“We imagined walking into school and seeing a timeline of black history in front of us,” he said. “This makes it more present, and everyone can appreciate it. I’m pleased with how it came together—you can really experience history as you walk down the hallway.”

At the end of the gallery, visitors are encouraged to write down how the experience made them feel in several words on a sticky note and attach it to a colorful board for others to see. At the end of the month, Ms. Simpson and her students will use the expressions to create a Wordle online (a graphical word cloud in which the most frequently used words are emphasized). The Wordle will be printed as a poster and hung in the hallways of the Upper School.

“I get chills thinking about how passionate and excited the students were about creating this project,” Ms. Simpson said. “The collaboration between divisions and the personal nature of the choices of what to hang on the wall was just outstanding.”


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- Dan and Kathi Campbell, Parents of Abbie ’19, Emma ’17, and Ben ’14

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- Grace Henderson ’10

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- Ron Coles, Father of Trace Coles ’19 and Grade 5 Teacher

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- Bowen Chen ’15


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