Baldwin students proudly kick off Black History Month with an exhibit of their artwork at the African American Museum of Nassau County. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Black history is American history.

That’s the message Baldwin teens and tweens hoped to convey Wednesday night as they kicked off the start of Black History Month with the opening of a student art exhibit at the African American Museum of Nassau County.

It’s the second year Baldwin Union Free School District has partnered with the Hempstead museum to display student art and poetry throughout February for Black History Month.

The number of student submissions has nearly doubled since the first exhibit, from 16 to 28 works of art in mediums ranging from sculpture to photography and paintings, as well as poetry.

Part of the legacy of the museum’s longtime directors, Joysetta and Julius Pearse, said program director Monet Green, is the desire for children “to be able to come into the museum and see the positive aspects of where they come from, to know that slavery is not the only part of their history.”

Even though the museum is open year-round, it gets the most traffic from visitors across the state in February, Green said.

Museum staff curate the student art exhibit, she said, adding that she enjoys seeing the faces of the artists “light up” when they see their work on display.

“I don't think they take it lightly, that their artwork is here in this museum,” she said.

One artist, Jayson Mehlman, a senior at Baldwin High School, said he hopes people learn from his creation, a digital composition of Black visionaries from the 20th century, encompassing figures such as filmmaker Spike Lee, writer and activist James Baldwin and feminist and poet Nikki Giovanni.

“Knowledge is power and when there’s power, there’s innovation and revolutionary ideas,” said Mehlman, 17. “When we see this, or just Black art in general, I hope people take time to really do research and learn these iconic people because they’re just like you and me, but they contributed a lot to society.”

Mehlman added he feels the artists and activists portrayed in his art — all people he finds inspiring — are “underrated.”

“I love all of them individually. I think they all piece together a part of me,” he said.

After a brief ceremony introducing the program, parents and other loved ones streamed through the exhibit, taking photos of their children standing with their art. 

One mother, Fedie Suraj al din, cast a wide smile as she took a picture of her daughter's poem, titled “Bloody Rose.”

“I'm very proud,” she said.

Another writer featured in the exhibit, Baldwin sixth-grader Cerai Ashby, said her poem about confronting stereotypes was inspired by poet and activist Amanda Gorman. Poetry, a hobby she picked up in fifth grade, is a way for her to express her emotions, said Ashby, 11.

When she heard about the exhibit at school, she recalled thinking, “This is a great way to express myself and show what I stand for."

It’s the first poem she’s shared publicly, she said. “But this one, I feel like it needed to be shared.”

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