In celebration of Black History Month, students from Martin Van Buren High School will be putting on a special presentation in the school’s auditorium on Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. The event is known as “Our Black History Gala: A Journey Through The African American Experience.”
Students will highlight the numerous historical achievements, struggles and connections experienced through music, choreography, drama and poetry.
According to Tara Browne, teacher and organizer of the event, more than 100 students are involved, including approximately 80 as part of the production cast and crew. She said a lot of work has gone into this event, with students practicing twice a week since late last October, with each rehearsal lasting three hours.
Browne said the event came about after Martin Van Buren High School Principal Deborah Nettleford brought up to her the idea of having a Black History Assembly for the students. From there, Browne wrote up a proposal that eventually became the Black History Gala.
Between the rehearsals, outreach from the teachers and organizing donations received for this event, Browne estimates that at least 300 hours has been invested into the production. With all the hard work, she is optimistic that it will be very well received and perhaps mark the first of many annual Black History Month productions.
“It’s going to open up with a Jimi Hendrix style rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ we have a student who’s going to play that on an electric guitar, along with the ROTC Color Guard from John Bowne High School,” Browne said. “Then we’re moving into ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’ It’s a journey through the African American experience.”
The hope and expectation is that all 1,076 seats in the auditorium will be filled out for the event. Whether it’s students, teachers, friends and family members of those involved in the production, community members and leaders, Browne is confident about tickets becoming sold out. Among those invited to see the production were local theater schools, friends and family of students, staff members, students and faculty from the middle school found within the building, local politicians, including New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
“I want [the audience] to be able to know and celebrate the different factors of [African American history],” Browne said. “I want them to be able to understand and appreciate the struggle. And I want them to be able to see themselves in each and every one of the scenes. And [I want them to see] the growth and the movement that we’ve all been affected by throughout the years.”
There have been numerous donations received ahead of the event. This includes from the Martin Van Buren High School Alumni Alliance, several teachers, the Denny’s down the block from the high school and many more. More than $1,000 has been donated in total. Commonpoint Queens is sponsoring the event. Additionally, artwork has been donated, allowing for an exhibit to be set up in the lobby about an hour before the show.
Tickets for the event can be purchased in advance for $5 each or at the location on the day of it for $10 each. In order to RSVP for tickets ahead of time, people are urged to email [email protected].
Even though a lot of time and work went into organizing this, Browne believes that this will become an annual event. She also believes this would provide something for students to look forward to.
“I know when we see those students on the stage and how they’re coming alive and how they’re excited, it’ll probably happen again next year,” Browne said. “I am extremely proud of them. We’re not a performing arts school and we don’t really have a big art department. I’m just really excited about what the students are going to do that night.”