Shawnee Mission North Presents 18th Annual Black History Month Program

SMN Dancers
Shawnee Mission School District

“I’m OreOluwa Oni, I am from Ibadan, Nigeria and I’ve lived here for almost a decade,” sophomore and Black History program coordinator began her speech.

Oni was one of the many performers featured in the 18th annual Black History Month program at SM North. Oni’s speech, “What Do You Want the World to See,” challenged the audience with the following questions:

  • Would you rather be the smartest person or the funniest?
  • Would you rather speak every language or talk to every animal?
  • Would you rather go to the past or the future?

“Very tough decisions to make right?” Oni noted.  She went on to explain for American children of African immigrants, balancing two identities, both African and black American, can be like making those difficult decisions every day. Many are torn between the culture of their African parents and the culture of their African American friends.

“In Nigeria, we say ‘if you want to go fast, you go alone, but if you want to go far, you go together’  and I believe it is time for everyone living in these United States to come together because when we start to work as one, we can begin to rescue each other and rescue ourselves,” Oni concluded.

Natalie Johnson-Berry, teacher and sponsor of the Harmony Club at SM North, welcomed guests, sharing that Black history is filtered throughout all of American history because Black history is American history today. 

“Today, we’ve tried to offer a sampling of black culture and raise awareness of black issues,” noted Johnson-Berry.

Students helped with all aspects of the production including lights and sound, artwork and decorations, and rehearsals. Students, staff and community members shared a variety of speeches, songs, dances, poems, art, and music. Student leaders and organizers, Samantha Morinville and Oni coordinated the event.

“It’s important to share and celebrate black culture at our school and inform our students and community,” Morinville shared.

Professional artist Kwanza Humphrey shared two of pieces of artwork from the InterUrban ArtHouse at the event. One piece entitled “Albert Young '' was inspired by a soldier and the other is a moment captured with Mama Hakima, executive director of Uzazi Village, known for her service to the community.

Each performer was introduced with details about the importance and history associated with the art form shared. The Raytown Steppers presented the art of stepping, which connects to African history. Now, stepping is popularized and often performed in black sororities, fraternities, drill teams, churches, and high schools. In stepping, the body is used to make sounds through clapping, stomping, and spoken word.

Thomas Parnell, a member of the SM North Crimson Tide Jazz band performed a drum solo on djembe drums. The African drum, which comes in many forms, is primarily the instrument used during various ceremonies, accompanied by dancing, singing, and clapping. Use of the drum spread throughout the world over the following years and now makes up a huge part of music culture and has evolved into many different shapes since its original form including the modern-day drum line.

The event concluded with all performers joining together to sing “We Are the World.”

“The purpose is to unite and honor civil right leaders that we have lost, along with leaders of today who are making a difference in today’s society,” said Johnson-Berry. She invited audience members to join in singing the finale.