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This year participants had to learn their parts and rehearse over Zoom.

The eighth annual Multicultural Black History Program took place Feb. 28 at Stargazers Theatre. The event, which traditionally features children performing “I Am” speeches as a specific figure in Black history, debuted a musical Motown segment this year. That came out of a partnership between event organizer OneBodyENT/K-Land Community Cares and the Pikes Peak Diversity Council.

“We’ve been doing work with OneBodyENT for several years now,” said Shirley Martinez, vice president of the Pikes Peak Diversity Council.

“We work with all the different cultural groups, so part of what the Pikes Peak Diversity Council does is, we partner with different cultural groups and entities and organizations within the community to connect, engage and include. You’ve got your United Ways and your Care and Shares and things like that that help with health and wellness and those things, but we really do the diversity, equity and inclusion piece in the community.”

Jennifer Smith, the co-founder and director of OneBodyENT/K-Land Community Cares, worked with the participants, ranging from pre-K to high school, to prepare them for the performance.

“The kids have learned their parts already, which normally takes a while, but by Feb. 1 they already knew their parts,” Smith said during a Feb. 4 interview.

“I think it was because they’ve been at home. They’ve had time to practice more and not run around. They learned all their parts, and now we’ve focused on the Motown part with the costumes and to get the Soul Train feel to it, so the kids know how they’re supposed to move. This day and age, they had no idea about Soul Train; it made me feel so old. So we watched videos, during our Christmas party, we watched videos of Motown, just to see what that looked like.”

Smith said COVID-19 precautions made this year’s preparations difficult.

“We did practices on Zoom, every Sunday from 3 to 5, and they’ve been doing it since November,” she said. “For these kids to be Zooming in and Zooming at school, and they come in on Sundays faithfully, it’s amazing. I know I wouldn’t want to Zoom in after I’ve Zoomed all week.

“This year has been the roughest Black History we’ve ever had. I love talking to the parents in person, seeing their faces about how they feel about their kids and being able to practice in person, where they can come to me and say, ‘Ms. Smith, I don’t get this’ and not be on Zoom where I can’t see their movements. It’s been rough, but this Black History program will be one they’ll never forget.”

Martinez said the Motown performance emphasized music’s importance in Black history.

“Part of the program is what we call the Motown piece, which is how music throughout the ages has been part of movements,” she said. “During slavery, when our ancestors were enslaved, music was part of how they provided information to each other and how they gave stories to each other. That’s a huge part of why we say that music has always been a part of movements. People, whether they come together for political [reasons] or health, or at different times in history, music has always been a part of that movement.”

In addition to the musical performance, the children got to choose a specific figure from Black history to study and then give a speech as that historical figure.

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Participants in last year’s Black History Program. Children in the community give speeches as figures from history.

“They learn their background, their bio and everything,” said Smith. “They pick the part they want to be, and once they learn that part they embody and become that person. When we do practice, they’re no longer their name. If Billy comes in, he will be Sammy Davis Jr. the whole time until the program is over. It’s amazing to see the transition.”

COVID-19 restrictions limited the number of in-person spectators, but community members were able to livestream the event online.

“We normally have about 500 people there,” Smith said before the event. “We wanted to make sure people don’t miss out, so we’ll be livestreaming, and for those that don’t have the ability to watch from their laptops, we’re giving them the opportunity to go to the Story Church, in K-Land, and watch the livestream.”

For Smith, the most important part of the production is making sure the children have fun.

“What we’re doing is what we’ve done for eight years,” she said. “Make sure the participants have a good time, but also learn by having a good time. Learning to have fun is what it is, by learning their parts.” 

 

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.