Black History Scholarship dinner connects past, present and future

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The annual West Orange High School Black History Scholarship dinner, held Feb. 7, connected the community to the past, present and future history of the black experience locally and worldwide through words, song and dance.

Guest speaker Lawrence Hamm offered a powerful historical perspective of black history in New Jersey, describing the state’s use of slaves and hesitation to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. He described the Emancipation Proclamation as a tool used to recruit slaves looking to gain their freedom, and how it added the needed boost to the Union Army to win the Civil War.

“We still wrestle with inclusion and exclusion, when the future of America is a pluralistic society,” Hamm said. “The beginning of black history is the beginning of human history and there is only one history of race, and that is the human race.”

Hamm advocated for the inclusion of all cultures and races in historical teaching, because “we should not rest until all histories are included.”

Several musical performances were interspersed throughout the evening celebrating the musical accomplishments of black musicians, such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Erroll Garner and Etta James. The Jubilee Choir, under the direction of Michelle Brown, offered gospel tunes. A lilting dance performance by Gabrielle Rembert, along with the girls and boys step teams, entertained. Olivia Ridley, Kai McCall and Mariana Simpson recited original spoken-word poems.

“At West Orange High School, we are a family,” Principal Hayden Moore said. “Our diversity is our strength and we celebrate all our students. It’s important to recognize the accomplishments of those whose shoulders we stand upon, and our annual black history celebration does that.”

The event was organized by the Student Council and all monies raised will be used to provide scholarships for graduating seniors.

Photos Courtesy of WOSD