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Highlighting Black History Month Events
To help commemorate Black History Month, Jeremy Bullock shared not only the stories of an athlete and an astronaut, but also a bit of his own.
Bullock, a Penn State senior, recently visited Corl Street Elementary for the resumption of the district’s African American Read-In program, a February tradition sidelined for the past two years by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the program, an extension of a national initiative, local African American residents volunteer to read books by African Americans or centered on them to elementary school classes.
For his part, Bullock read to second-graders Home-Field Advantage by New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue about how the astronaut Ron McNair overcame discrimination at his childhood hometown library in South Carolina.
But Bullock, responding to questions, also told his wide-eyed audience about himself — that he went to Corl Street once like them, played volleyball and football at State High, and now is months from graduating with an information sciences and technology degree.
“It’s a full-circle moment because I remember when I was young, my parents would come in and do the African American Read-In,” Bullock said after his second time returning to Corl Street as a Black History Month reader. “Remembering that, and now I’m one of the big people coming in, reading books, it’s really cool. It’s great to give back too because I know how Corl Street gave me a good education, so being able to come back and contribute, provide the kids with a different perspective, it’s something that’s really special to me.”
Bullock joined 10 other Corl Street readers, including his parents, and other community residents visiting the rest of the district’s elementary schools to make this year’s African American Read-In a success.
Back in 2004, Duane and Letitia Bullock brought the program to Corl Street as school parents. They’ve been coordinating the visits ever since, even after all three of their children had moved on from the school.
“We see it as a nice way to give back to the community during Black History Month, to have the kids experience something different, see people who don’t look like them, hear them talk about their experiences,” said Duane Bullock, who also serves as vice president of the State College Area School District Education Foundation.
Letitia Bullock recalled that she and her husband were inspired by Dr. Barbara Farmer, who introduced the program locally while she was the principal of Houserville/Lemont elementary.
“Duane and I were members of the diversity committee at the time and so we said, ‘Hey, we’ll do it here and we’ll get people in the community to come so that kids can see people of color and be read to by them,” Bullock said. “It’s always such a delight because the people who participate are delighted and then the kids ask such wonderful and intelligent questions. It’s such a pleasure.”
Park Forest Elementary teacher Janette Ortiz, a SCASD alum herself, has worked to extend the program to the district’s other elementary schools. Throughout February, the read-ins were one of many Black History Month activities across the district, including:
State High held its second “Lift Every Voice: A Cultural Celebration” variety show showcasing singing, dancing and spoken word performances by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) students. An evening public show took place this year, as well as two daytime shows for students.
A Delta Program psychology class highlighted influential Black psychologists and the Association of Black Psychologists. Additionally, Delta continued to make plans for two student groups to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., in the spring.
Park Forest Middle School sixth-graders studied Black musicians, composers and performers in music class, selecting individuals for in-depth presentations, and started a World Drumming unit featuring African culture and drumming. The sixth-grade choir learned about Duke Ellington and sang his composition, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.”
Park Forest Middle School’s No Place for Hate student group assembled a bulletin board celebrating Black inventors, influential women of color and inspirational quotes from Black athletes and entertainers.
Ferguson Township Elementary fourth-graders daily learned about impactful African Americans from a “Celebrating Black History Month” slideshow. Selected individuals were: Gabby Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Amanda Gorman, Frederick Douglass, Mae Jemison, John Lewis, Hank Aaron, Bessie Coleman, Langston Hughes, Katherine Dunham, Wilma Rudolph, Ruth Carter, Viola Davis, Kamala Harris, Ava DuVernay, Robert Abbott, Halle Berry, Alvin Ailey, Serena Williams and Tyler Perry.
Ferguson Township Elementary fifth-graders did a close reading of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech, then compared it to National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s Presidential Inauguration speech in 2021.
Park Forest Elementary first-graders daily learned about African American contributions to art, music, science, technology, business and leadership.
Mount Nittany Middle School highlighted historical African Americans (example: Dr. Mae Jemison tribute) and student Black Affinity group members during the morning announcements. Park Forest Middle School’s announcements included daily “Wise Words” quotes from famous African Americans, past and present.
The district Food Services Department menus included information about the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., inviting students to visit virtual exhibits.
Social studies lessons and library/hallway displays in schools celebrated influential African Americans.
By Chris Rosenblum
Photos by Nabil K. Mark