Black History through Poetry, Dance, and Reflection

Carondelet celebrated Black History Month through song, poetry, dance, and reflection that culminated on Thursday with a full assembly. "The Black experience is diverse and that is why we're here today," said Isis Tolson '19 at the Carondelet Black History Month Assembly put on by the Black Student Union.

The assembly, the poetry readings the preceding day, and posted biographies of important Black people in our culture placed throughout the school helped us do more than recognize Black culture and people; it reminded us that Black History Month is an opportunity to encourage us to look within ourselves every day so that we might look out at those around us and appreciate the "content of their character," to take a phrase from Dr. King.

The writings and reflections addressed the "face of adversity and the hauntings of the past," said Sahara McElroy '19, while collectively challenging the daily tensions of human nature that allow hauntings and adversity to exist in the first place. This assembly celebrated and encouraged a look at a specific part of the American experience that is wholly American. In doing so, Sarah challenges us to find solutions to the daily tensions of human nature and find ways to rise to the better angels of our nature. And we do this through the story of Black hope because the Black experience is a history bound to our collective history.

After heartfelt testimonies and moving readings, the Black Student Union strategically placed a dance, performed by Melody Coats '19, Jasmine Smalling '20, and Marie'Sa Rumsey '19, to symbolically bridge the early part of the assembly to the final reflection as a way to remind us all that harmony can exist in our world where hope intersects with violence; and where forgiveness leads to empathy and love.

The most moving moment came when Marie'Sa and her mother, Felicia Rumsey, told the story of the tragic loss of Demariay, Marie'Sa's brother and Felicia's son. Demariay was a bright young man with a 3.95 G.P.A. and a promising future. At the age of 17, Marie'Sa said, "my brother was stopped while with his friends and beaten by four police officers." On a separate night, Demariay was fatally shot by a stranger. Demariay experienced violence far too early in life in a way no person should ever experience such brutality. A person wronged by indifference. Marie'Sa was only seven. The assembly sat silent as her righteous anguish settled into all of us just before her mother, Felicia, took the stage.

Everyone knew no mother should have to bear such witness. There were many nights of tears and prayers and the shower-waters that rained down on her, a mother drowning the sounds of her cries. It would have been understandable for Felicia to cling stubbornly to hate. But she turned to God and made the decision to turn the other cheek. She did something few might find the strength to do. She forgave the young man who took her son from her. From the world. Felicia and her family started a foundation in Demariay's name to help juvenile offenders. They sold t-shirts, wrist bands, and had fund-raisers at their church. Felicia knows that virtue exalts a family, a community, a nation.

The spirit that filled Felicia's heart comforted her daughter and her family and gave them purpose where there was sorrow. "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it," said Toni Morrison. So the Rumseys gave us Demariay's story.

"The day was a perfect balance of reflection, education, and hope for the future. I am so happy that Carondelet provided the opportunity for these amazing women to share their thoughts and stories," said Andrea Smalling, mother of Jasmine Smalling.

In their own way, our Black daughters and sisters of Carondelet told a story in the ancient way of storytelling and religious purpose: from one person to the next so that the story lives on with us and in us. Now we know Demariay's story. Now we know their story. Now we know our heavenly charge. We are, all, God's children. "I'm asking you, my sisters and brothers, consider Demariay your brother, my story as your story, as a foundation to change the world," Marie'Sa Rumsey '19.