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In photos: North Memphis students honor thread of royalty from African queens to kings of pop music

Students at Humes Preparatory Academy wait for parents and community members to take their seats.

Energy was high in the auditorium at Humes Preparatory Academy Middle School on Friday afternoon. Students at the school, located along Manassas Street on Smokey City’s western edge, spent their February taking their lessons from Black History Month and turning it into a three-act performance.
Energy was high in the auditorium at Humes Preparatory Academy Middle School on Friday afternoon. Students at the school, located along Manassas Street on Smokey City’s western edge, spent their February taking their lessons from Black History Month and turning it into a three-act performance they were premiering that afternoon.

“Black & Royal: A protest, a prayer, a poem,” was a production led by a group of eighth graders who handled direction, stage management and choreography in collaboration with sixth grade performers.

The fire alarm went off as costume changes and makeup touch ups were happening. Kim Hardy, the students’ performing art teacher who had been guiding the students throughout their production, found some relief in the interruption.

The fire drill the hour before the performance was a blessing in disguise because it gave us all the opportunity to breathe, “ she said. The alarm had been a false one. Students spent their time outside running through their lines and applying makeup while waiting for the Memphis Fire Department to clear the building.

To Ms. Hardy, between the after school rehearsals, the time spent writing and designing sets and even quickness to refocus after the alarm, the students embodied diligence. Their commitment to a piece of collaborative work was inspiring to her given that it rose up as a prescription from sense of anxiety around being young and black in this world.

Kayla Houston during one of the performances of "Black & Royal: A protest, a prayer, a poem"




















Dr. John Crutchfield, the school’s principal, called an emergency school assembly following the presidential election. Students had been coming to school carrying fears about the implications of having Donald Trump as their president on themselves and their families, from deportations to incarceration.


Humes Prep scholars are also experiencing a transition in school operators that leaves the students feeling hopeless, according to their teacher.  The assembly aimed to help everyone in the building remember that there is a choice to be excellent no matter who is in the White House or operating their school. 

“He can still choose to rise,” Ms. Hardy said. "'Black and Royal’” was intended to capture and reflect the feelings the children have expressed this year. The main purpose, however, is to remind the children that we are still people of great value and that we can and must rise.” 

Those messages resonated with the scholars. 

“We were slaves and we were held under captivity,” sixth grader Tyler Johnson said. “In black history, there were sacrifices. (To look at that history) means to understand what actually happened during our past, what we need to know to appreciate the people. We [can] bring our thoughts together. That’s how we could be royalty. We (can) make our decisions and be a better community.”

The performances called back to historic African roots and carried that message of value through interpretations of the civil rights movement and pop culture timelines. 

“The show is about empowerment,” eighth grader Brianna Armstrong said. “It was alarming how many mind-opening things I learned about courage and strength. Its how you make it today.”

Read more articles by Andrea Morales.

Andrea Morales is a documentary photographer based in Memphis. Born in Lima, Peru, she grew up in Miami, earned a B.S. in journalism from the University of Florida and an M.A. in photography from Ohio University. Working for different newspapers moved her to cities and newsrooms of all size, including the El Sentinel in South Florida, the Lima News in NW Ohio and The New York Times in NYC. Most recently, she was on staff as a photographer at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, where she covered barn dances, ox pulls and presidential elections, all with equal joy.
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