Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village celebrated its inaugural “Our Black History Gala” on Feb. 17 in the school’s auditorium. The event featured a two-act, seven-scene play put on by the students.
The event kicked off with the John Bowne High School ROTC taking part in a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” in the style of Jimi Hendrix, featuring Jeffrey Burns on the guitar. The play is about a high school student asking her grandfather about him attending the March on Washington. In wanting to tell the full picture of the Black experience in America, the grandfather shares a more complete history throughout the play.
The first scene of the play was meant as a celebration of extravagance in Africa. Titled “When We Were Kings,” students donned traditional African clothing and danced during this celebration.
The second scene dealt with a much darker subject matter. Referred to as “The Auction Block,” this scene provided a silent and darkly-lit portrayal of the slave trade.
The third scene covers both the Underground Railroad and the Emancipation Proclamation. After President Abraham Lincoln discussed the Emancipation Proclamation, a student dances solemnly and solo to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” The spotlight caste her strong shadow onto a backdrop of trees behind her.
This scene marked the final one of the play’s first act. Throughout the intermission, Jazz hits were played. A piano rendition of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was performed to kick off Act 2 of the play.
The first scene of Act 2 features Ella Fitzgerald singing “Take the A Train.” The performance showcases the spirit of African Americans that the grandfather had referenced earlier.
Act 2’s second scene highlights faith among African Americans. This is done through the portrayal of a Sunday morning service.
The third scene of Act 2 covers the Civil Rights Movement, specifically focusing on it during the 1960s. Students from Martin Van Buren High School acted out a peaceful protest in this scene, complete with protest signs.
An episode of “Soul Train” is depicted in the fourth scene of Act 2 as a means of covering the 1970s. The students donned dancing outfits from the time period to complete the review of history on an upbeat note.
The play concludes with a scene of a classroom of students sharing their Black History projects. The high school student from the play shares what she learned from her grandfather as images of famous African Americans throughout history are shuffled from a projector.
Martin Van Buren High School teacher Tara Browne organized this event. Following the play’s conclusion, she joined the students on stage and thanked everyone who helped to make this event so successful.