Mu­ral cel­e­brates African de­scent

Prince Ge­orge’s County Public Schools holds recog­ni­tion re­cep­tion, mu­ral un­veil­ing in honor of United Na­tions’ ‘Decade’

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @JClink_En­qGaz

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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

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