Mural celebrates African descent
Prince George’s County Public Schools holds recognition reception, mural unveiling in honor of United Nations’ ‘Decade’
Brazil native Alexandre Keto, a 28-year-old resident artist sponsored by the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council, speaks about a mural he designed last fall during an unveiling at the Sasscer Building on June 17 in Upper Marlboro. Keto joined Prince George’s County Public Schools in celebrating the United Nations’ “Decade,” a 10-year period to globally underline the important contributions made by people of African descent. Keto recently designed a new mural at Suitland High School on June 18.
Prince George’s County Public Schools held a recognition reception and mural unveiling on June 17 to celebrate “Decade,” a 10-year period designated by the United Nations to globally underline the important contributions made by people of African descent.
The event, held at the Sasscer Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, was hosted by Prince George’s African-American Museum and Cultural Center Executive Director Chanel Compton and Suitland High School Visual and Performing Arts Division Coordinator Maria Saldana. Among the guest speakers included PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), Councilwoman Deni Taveras (D) and Suitland High School Principal Nathan Newman. The keynote speaker was Zakiya Carr Johnson, director of the U.S. State Department’s Race, Ethnicity and Social Inclusion Unit, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
“Today, what we’re here to do is acknowledge members of our community who are consistently and steadfastly supporting the many things happening in our community to make sure everyone feels included and that histories that sometimes get unsaid or go unsaid, are said,” Saldana said during a mural unveiling outside of Maxwell’s office.
The International Decade for People of African Descent, observed from 2015 to 2024, provides a solid framework for the United Nations, member states, civil society and all other relevant actors to join together with people of African descent and take effective measures for the implementation of the program of activities in the spirit of recognition, justice and development, according to a press release from the school system.
The overall objective of the “Decade” is to promote respect, protection and fulfillment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people of African descent, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to a United Nations brochure.
“We did this amazing cultural exchange with young people in Brazil and we collaborated with the Museu Afro Brasil,” Compton said. “Our culture keepers in our program learned about their local black history and the students in Brazil learned about their local black history as well. They exchanged that information and they even got to travel to each other’s country to create murals in celebration of the African Diaspora because we’re all connected through that history.”
Culture Keepers is an after-school program — part of the museum’s Cultural Education Passport Program, a partnership between the museum and PGCPS — that enables middle and high school students to become researchers and teachers by interpreting the black history, art and culture of Prince George’s County and beyond. Each year, culture keepers engage in innovative projects including art exhibitions, mural projects, cultural exchanges and community forums. The museum has partnered with PGCPS to implement the program at Suitland High School’s Center for Visual and Performing Arts, according to the museum’s website.
The mission of the Culture Keepers program is to celebrate and inspire the community through the cultivation, preservation and presentation of the cultural and artistic contributions of African-Americans in Prince George’s County through creative and positive ambassadorships of young residents, Compton said.
“We expand on that mission through our youth program,” she said. “We connect our young people with the rest of the world. … Through our programs, we want to support a new generation of innovators, of great thinkers and creators in the county.”
The Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center was awarded the 2013-14 Museums Connect grant — an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that is administered by the American Alliance of Museums — for the project, “A Journey through the African Diaspora.” In the spring of 2014, students from Suitland High School participated in a cultural exchange with a school group from EMEFM Antionio Sampio High School in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where they researched the African Diaspora and designed a public mural to reflect what they learned, the museum’s website noted.
“The diaspora was a big part of our education,” Baker said. “To be able to share that knowledge helps form who we are and so this is an important part of what we want for Prince George’s County students.”
“Culture Keepers changed my life. My trip to Brazil changed my life,” said 18-year-old Naima Shaw, a graduate of Suitland High School and former Culture Keepers program participant who is now a global studies major at Hofstra University in New York. “My ultimate focus is to research blackness in Latin America because no one ever thinks of South America or Central America as inherently Black. No country in South America is thought to be linked with Africa and no one would expect Brazil is because of what the media portrays.”
“Being in this program allowed me to kind of make everything that I learned throughout my life come full circle,” said University of Virginia student Bryanna Rather, 18, who was one of the first students from Suitland High School to participate in the Culture Keepers program. “It’s taught me that I can take everything that I know and I can wear it and I can show people that, ‘Yes, we’re here. Yes, you may have an opinion of me but I’m not what you think I am. I can tell you how strong Black people are and although people have attempted to suppress us and keep us down, we’ve done nothing but excel.’ That’s not just something that’s happening here; that’s something that’s happening all over the world.”
Maxwell said PGCPS will continue to espouse the arts to make sure students not only learn about their history, but also how art can inform and help them to be creative and innovative.
“We want to use black art forms and black cultural expression as a unifier and as a model for peace and social justice throughout the world,” Compton said.
“The power of the arts and the power of knowing your history has the ability to change lives,” Newman said. “This is a great thing.”