Black History Programs in Halifax County Covered History, Music, and More

James 'Plunky' Branch and his band Oneness out of Richmond, Virginia. Source: Halifax County Schools NC
James 'Plunky' Branch and his band Oneness out of Richmond, Virginia. Source: Halifax County Schools NC

Halifax County Schools held its Second Annual Black History Month Programs last week at its respective middle schools.

Presented in morning sessions for elementary students and afternoon sessions for middle and high school scholars, Enfield Middle STEAM Academy (Enfield, North Carolina) hosted the February 12, 2019 installment, while the February 13, 2019 event was held at William R. Davie Middle STEM Academy (Roanoke Rapids, NC). In addition to students, attendees included county residents, community organization representatives, and members of the HCS Board of Education.

The program was presented by Dr. Charles D. Chambliss, Jr., a Rocky Mount, NC based consultant, civil rights advocate and former attorney, who narrated the sojourn of African Americans from the enslaved Africans cramped in the bowels of ships that traveled from the shores of the “Dark Continent” to the ports of the Americas where they were treated as property while building the wealth of the world’s richest nation. The presentation navigated through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Civil War, Black Codes (slave laws), and the Jim Crow era to the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

Segments were exchanged with Richmond, Virginia sax man James “Plunky” Branch, who educated students on the anthology of United States music culture, tracing the genres back to African rhythms. Accompanied by his ensemble Oneness, interludes ranged from rhythms on the African shekere to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (the African-American national anthem), “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and other songs popular in the civil rights movement.

The recurring theme of the programs was student encouragement, empowerment, and emphasis on the significance of preparation to overcome challenges, building on Superintendent Dr. Eric Cunningham’s vision of “Charting A New Course” for HCS.

“We are building our children up,” said Dr. Cunningham, who led students in enthusiastic recitations of his “Five Fingers Up” Pledge, a commitment to the principles of Ready, Respectful, Resilient, Triumphant and Proficient. “It’s important for them to know where they come from.”

Rodney Pierce, an 8th grade History teacher at Davie and the 2019 NC Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year, reminded students to be prepared to fight against the wrongs they encounter in life, pointing to the local examples of Sarah Keys Evans and Dr. Willa Cofield, who both fought in the courts against racial discrimination that occurred in Halifax County. “You stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said.

In surprise additions to the programs, Enfield Middle students Destiny Bandy, Madison Summer and Zashaya Bryant each recited poems and received standing ovations for their performances.

“We always ask our students three questions:  Where are we now, where are we going, and how do we get there?” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tyrana Battle. “Students need to understand a clear path and to get there, they need to understand their history.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Eric Cunningham, the mission of Halifax County Schools is “to focus on the needs of students by empowering them to be successful global residents.” Its core purpose is “to create a supportive and positive learning environment to address the needs of the whole-student in partnership with educators, staff, parents and communities.” HCS is comprised of 10 institutions (two high schools, two middle schools, six elementary schools) with foci on STEM education, the arts, leadership cultivation, and international studies.

HCS participants in the Black History Program. Source: Halifax County Schools NC
HCS participants in the Black History Program. Source: Halifax County Schools NC


Source: Chatesha Dickens, Halifax County (NC) Schools

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