By GABRIELLA CRUZ-MARTÍNEZ
Students, families, former alums, and staff at William H. Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., celebrated Black culture and acknowledged the contributions of the Chicago Black Renaissance Movement in their annual Black History Month event on Feb. 21.
Families filled the school auditorium and cheered throughout the performances that honored the diversity of the community at Ray, a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural elementary school serving approximating 730 students from kindergarten through the eighth grade in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
The program, themed after the Chicago Black Renaissance, a creative movement where artistic expression, community organizing, and social activity blossomed in Chicago’s African-American community from the 1930s to the 1950s, included performances in honor of the art and literary expression of that time.
During the talent showcase, students celebrated South Side writers of the Black Renaissance like Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks, with a reading of her poem “Primer for Black”; Langston Hughes’, “A Dream Deferred”; and Richard Wright’s, “Black Boy.”
“Black History Month is one of our biggest celebrations of our community,” said Principal Megan Thole, “Today we celebrate our community, diversity, and the talents of students, staff, and our families at Ray.”
The day-long program included a Gallery Walk displaying the art work and projects of students, a ‘Battle of the Grandmas’ dessert competition, student performances throughout the day and a final talent showcase at the school auditorium.
“Here at Ray, if you look around at our audience, there are so many beautiful colors,” said Assistant Principal Gayle Harris-Neely in her opening statement. “There are so many different cultures and ethnicities, here we celebrate all ethnicities. Tonight we’re going to embrace Black culture as well as learn about all cultures, because here at Ray we are one.”
Aside from honoring the literary writers of the Chicago Black Renaissance, Ray students showed off their dancing talents with performances from K-8 grade Hip-Hop groups, a ballet performance of “Negro Rhapsody,” African Dance, Stompin’ at the Savoy, and presentations of art made by students honoring the Art Movement.
Students also presented “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often dubbed as the ‘Black National Anthem’ written by African-American poet James Weldon Johnson, as well as a performance by the Ray Elementary School Choir singing “Black Butterfly.”
“In Ray not only do we celebrate Black History, we celebrate all cultures as one,” Neely said.
Neely thanked the Ray staff, members of the Hyde Park community that came to perform, and the Parent Teacher Association for their support in organizing the event.