The daughter of a jazz legend helped students at Hill Central School close out Black History Month with drumming singing, and an admonition to “keep love and energy in your hearts.”
Cecelia Calloway, the daughter of jazz legend Cab Calloway, made that admonition Wednesday afternoon at a program marking the end of Black History Month. The program also featured drumming by Michael Mills and an address by Probate Judge Clifton Graves Jr.. At one point, dozens of students played drums with Mills and Calloway.
The keynote speaker, Judge Graves, led the crowd through a version of “Mountain Move Out of My Way,” exhorting students to overcome ignorance, injustice and other social ills. Graves focused on the role of history in preserving dignity and shaping the future.
“I stand on the shoulders of Mansa Musa, of Nefertiti, of Nat Turner,” Graves said, “and Malcolm X and Angela Davis, and Barack.”
Graves discussed Calloway’s achievements and those of other accomplished black men, including Paul Robeson, Arthur Schomburg, and historian and writer Carter G. Woodson. Woodson, the second black man to earn a PhD from Harvard, was instrumental in creating Black History Month, Graves said. Woodson’s career could serve as an inspiration to all, Graves said. Woodson came from a poor background and didn’t enter high school until age 20, though he educated himself before then.
“Why February?” Graves asked. “It’s the shortest and the coldest month.” Graves said Woodson, who organized “Negro History Week” 44 years before the first celebration of Black History Month, chose February because the month includes the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Graves added that Black History Month is inadequate.
“It should be taught every day,” Graves said. “For too long history has been just that — his-story.” Graves said history, including history teaching, was long dominated by the stories of individual white men. Black History Month offers an opportunity to challenge that monopoly and reclaim dignity for other groups of people, he said.
Michael Mills, a drummer and composer, led the musical accompaniment for the event and brought dozens of drums for students to play during the program. Early on, Mills and Calloway led the students through chants of “Drums, not guns” and “Life, not death.”
“It’s not about Black History Month. It’s about Black History,” said Dee Marshall, one of the teachers who organized the event.
“This is about knowing the past to shape the future,” added Assistant Principal Nicole Brown.
“We want to remember their traditions and their roots,” said Principal Jaime Ramos