Blacks in Wax
Catherine Carney | 3/10/2010, 12:36 p.m.
Students at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center portrayed seminal figures in Black history during the 4th Annual Blacks In Wax program, Lift Every Voice and STAND, Fri. March 5. Courtesy Photo
The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and the Recreation Wish List Committee hosted the 4th Annual €Blacks in Wax€ program, €Lift Every Voice and€STAND€ on Fri., March 5, at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center. There was a matinee performance for invited community schools, and a public performance that evening.
During the performances, 70 children portraying characters in Black history lined the halls of the facility, standing as if made of wax. Push-buttons were placed beside each character, that when pushed signaled the performer to €comes to life€ in character, and told audience members about €their€ life and contributions to society.
€The Blacks in Wax event not only connects across generations but it also empowers the youth and builds self-esteem in a new and creative way. In addition to learning critical thinking skills, the Blacks in Wax event provides youth with an opportunity to learn how the African American figures they read about and see on the television fit into a bigger, global context of Black history,€ said Recreation Wish List Committee founder Cora Masters Barry.
At a rehearsal a week before the event, children gathered and led each other in speaking exercises before launching into individual performances, as parents watched.
€This is our first year and we are really excited,€ said Vernerdet Webb, mother of Brooke Webb, who portrayed Beyonce for the event.
Other children were veterans. Jada Brooks, 12, who in the past has profiled Venus Williams, and this year impersonated Queen Latifah, said the event is always fun, and the best part is €learning about the people€ portrayed.
As the rehearsal got underway, Barry took a moment away from the helm to answer a few questions about the origins and legacy of the event.
€The Blacks in Wax event not only connects across generations but it empowers the youth and builds self esteem in a new and creative way. In addition to learning critical thinking skills, the Blacks in Wax event provides youth with an opportunity to learn how the African American figures they read about and see on the television fit into a bigger, global context of Black history,€ said Recreation Wish List Committee founder Cora Masters Barry.
€There is a cadre of [figures], a certain group, that we do every year,€ said Barry, including Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman. But the focus of the group changes every year. €This year, we are doing a vignette on famous singers, dancers or entertainers who have used their craft or their gift to uplift humanity, or society, or justice.
And that€s why it€s called €Lift Every Voice and ... STAND.€
All students who attend the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center are eligible to participate in the €Blacks in Wax€ event. Students and staff research potential figures to profile, focusing on the individual€s impact or contribution to society. Staff encouraged the profiling of lesser-known figures, such as Elizabeth Bowser, who served as a spy during the Civil War, and Bessie Coleman, the first female African-American aviator. Students then rehearse their parts for about three weeks before the final performance.
In addition to building the young people€s stage presence, love of history, and creativity, Barry said that it the performance is helping them learn to mentor and cocoon one another.
€Kids basically say I cannot do this, I cannot read this, and then I cannot memorize this, and even if I could memorize it, I don€t want to do it in front of people. And now, everyone€s got a hand up to participate. That€s a process, and that first two or three weeks is the hardest part. But then, I was here Thursday and I was gathering the coaches, and I€m looking in the room, and the kids are in the room coaching each other. That was amazing. There were no adults, they were just doing it in front of each other.€
The Recreation Wish List Committee supports academic activities, clubs, and special events at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center. Find out about upcoming events at www.recreationwishlist.org.