Black History Month Gallery Showcases Steward’s Creativity, Compassion

The gallery represents our school’s commitment to honoring diversity and preparing for a brighter future.

Some say that the quality of art should be measured by its ability to inspire conversation and affect change. Steward aims to do just that with its cross-divisional Black History Month wall gallery, featuring unique contributions from JK-12 students, faculty, and staff. The focal point of the gallery is a collection of thought-provoking original drawings by junior Lizzie Parris.

The gallery, which is located on the wall outside of English teacher Cat Morphis’ classroom in the Junior Commons, is meant to serve as an interactive, “live” way for the community to learn about and engage with African American history all throughout the month of February. The process of creating the gallery was a collaborative undertaking between students, faculty, and staff that came as a result of a brainstorming group led by Upper School Academic Dean Elizabeth Simpson.

Lizzie’s work reflects the school’s campus-wide theme of storytelling in the curriculum, which is the central idea behind the entire gallery. Through unique decorations and symbols, the hands show the historical plight of African Americans, from peace and prosperity in West Africa to enslavement and the oppression of free labor in the American South. The last panel shows a hand held in a strong fist, but it is still shackled as it appears in previous drawings, representing the work that still needs to be done regarding race and oppression. The story is one of heartache, perseverance, tragedy, strength, and hope.

“It’s such an important topic that needs to be recognized,” Lizzie said. “Words can go a long way but I think pictures can go a lot further. It’s a way of communicating with people through different perspectives. I got my inspiration from what I learned in school, and I put my own spin on it to make it more interesting to interpret.”

During an assembly, Upper School students were shown the first two hands and asked to text a word to an online polling site that represents how the hands made them feel. Their words (such as “strong,” “sad,” and “determined,”) were sent to a live word cloud that developed on the screen as the students texted in. This world cloud was later printed and hung on the gallery alongside the hands.

Mrs. Simpson said: “It’s amazing to me that Lizzie has such an incredible talent that she can create art that’s not only beautiful, but is so compelling and gripping that it doesn’t give you a choice except to respond. That’s why we decided to make it the center of our gallery.”

Students in all three divisions also contributed artwork to the gallery. Here are just a few examples:

  • After reading a book on famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Lynn Zinder’s grade 1 art students drew colorful railroad cars to represent the Underground Railroad.
  • Ron Coles’ grade 5 class did their annual quilt square project in which they design their own quilt square and include a QR code that links to a video they made about a notable African American in history.
  • Wallace Inge’s grade 7 History students used historical databases to find original bills of sale for slaves purchased in Richmond. They printed out the bills and decorated them in a way to showcase the name of each person—some wrote the person’s name over and over, while others marked out everything on the bill but the name. The idea is to honor the individuals and their legacies by remembering their names, even though they were treated in such a dehumanizing way.
  • Peter Hurley’s grade 11 AP English Language students studied a portrait of African Americans in a jazz club during the segregation period. Each student then selected a person in the portrait and wrote a poem from that person's perspective.

At the far end of the gallery hangs a poster with the following statement: “All children belong here—this is our promise to you. We are in this together, working for a world where every child is protected and honored exactly as they are.” The poster also displays the names of Steward students who are pledging their support to this mission.

“What I find so inspiring about the gallery is that it represents an all-school commitment to honoring the histories of African Americans and pledging to work together towards a brighter future,” she added. “We have the power to affect change and write a story that we’re proud of. We can help change the narrative.”

 

 

 

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