- BY SUZANNE PFEFFERLE TAFUR
If you peruse the extracurricular offerings of a typical high school, you’ll likely find clubs dedicated to chess, photography, books or fitness. But you may be a little hard-pressed to find a club devoted to Black history. Sensing a need for one, New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School, or Sci High, established its Black History Club about a year ago.
It promotes a “holistic approach to African studies,” said Derek Rankins, who teaches Black history at Sci High. He also serves as the club advisor.
Club participants determine the topics they look into and their level of engagement.
“They get to explore the fun aspect of it,” said Rankins.
The club, with about 10 students, is largely responsible for Sci High’s Black History Month schedule. It includes short, interactive history lessons, contests, dress down (or dress up) days and an entire day devoted to hair.
The Uptown high school joins the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in recognizing the contributions of the Black diaspora, with the theme: “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” Students will write essays about the topic for a chance to win cash prizes and show pride for their heritage during Spirit Week.
Rankins said student Samajh Robinson was the driving force behind the activities scheduled for Spirit Week — five festive days taking place toward the end of February.
“We are showing the dynamic of the Black family and how it has changed and evolved, and how it has affected the community,” said Samajh, the Black History Spirit Week chair.
Black History Spirit Week begins with Dashiki Day, when participants don African prints or dashikis — a type of colorful clothing most popular in West Africa.
On Historically Black College or University Day and Black Greek Organization Day, students will use fashion to show support for their favorite academic and extracurricular establishments. They will do the same on Liberation Day, when they represent the Black Nationalist Flag by wearing their class colors (green, black, yellow or red).
During the final day, dubbed The Hair Affair, spirit week revelers are encouraged to get creative with their hairstyles — whether it’s by wrapping, braiding or coloring their tresses.
“Black people’s hair is another way that we are discriminated against,” Samajh said. “So the hair appreciation day just came about by highlighting that our hair is another thing that makes us Black.”
Samajh is most excited about HBCU Day, because he is “a future college student” who plans on joining a Black Greek fraternity.
Sci High is partnering with the New Orleans Public Library to screen their Black History Month program. But once February comes to a close, the school’s Black History Club will continue to promote Black history from behind the scenes.
“I think we really need to start educating people on where we come from and what happened before slavery,” said Korey Tate, the club’s president. “Not a lot of people know about that.”
Samajh believes every school should have a Black History Club, because you cannot learn American history without discovering African American history.
“If we’re going to learn about Isaac Newton, we should also learn about Katherine Johnson, right?” he said.
(Johnson was a Black mathematician whose orbital calculations for NASA were crucial to manned space flights.)
“It’s all about making sure that our history is incorporated along with White American history,” Samajh said. “The club is another outlet to highlight those influences, because we are here as well, and we are not often credited enough with helping build this country.”