Black History Brought to Life by Student Poets 

Students personify civil rights leaders to honor their legacy

February 21, 2013

This month, students from Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVCA) will celebrate Black History Month in a variety of ways, including a history fair, a poetry slam, and numerous learning opportunities built right into their daily curriculum.


“There is so much that is worth knowing about African-American history,” said Ernestine Key, Program Coordinator for CVCA. “We want these facts and stories to be a part of the students’ daily vernacular so that they will discuss them and be proud.”


Every day during the month of February, facts about African-American history are relayed to the entire student body via the school’s public address system. And in their weekly Advisory Class – a discussion group moderated by school counselors – students write short essays about prominent African-Americans and critical times in their history, the best of which are shared with the school as a whole.


“We work hard to integrate these important facts and people into the curriculum,” said Ernestine Key. “We want this rich history to be something they celebrate every day.”


On February 18, the CVCA Poetry Club hosted the “Black American  Achievement and Empowerment” Open Mic event, where student poets dressed to represent civil rights leaders from the 1960s read work inspired by the events of that  era.


“It was very moving,” said Tamela Chambers, a media specialist from CVCA. “The students had a lot to say about what in their history makes them proud.”


Junior Shane Calvin and senior Kenneth Coleman performed a conversation poem from the perspectives of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – an exercise designed to make their audience think about different approaches on the road to equality.

“We helped people see two sides of the movement,” said Kenneth, “both the violent and the nonviolent.”


“We showed the voices of two leaders who had the same ideas about civil rights and equality but took different paths to get there,” added Shane.


Both members of the Poetry Club, Shane and Kenneth feel that much is gained through the reading and writing of poetry. “We’re in the business of ‘edutaining’ people,” said Kenneth. “We give them something interesting to listen to while teaching them something too. Something like history.”


Audience participation was a key element of the Open Mic event, as student spectators were asked to write two or three lines reflecting on what they heard in each poem and were then encouraged to share their thoughts with the group.


“I wish we would’ve had even more time together,” said Tamela Chambers, who acted as moderator for the event. “So many of the students wanted to share what they’d written about their heritage and how issues of race and equality still affect us today.”


Shane Calvin, who also read a poem on African-American pride, felt that the Open Mic event was the perfect way to celebrate Black History Month. “I think that if the people who fought for us and for our rights were here, they’d be proud and glad to hear what we had to say,” he said.