Westbury Arts has hosted the event for the last six years to celebrate Black History Month.  Credit: Howard Simmons

Through a mix of singing and dramatic storytelling, Alicia Evans transported an audience back in time to 1955.

Evans, a professor, artist and storyteller, performed as master of ceremonies for the Westbury Arts Black History Month Celebration on Saturday afternoon. In front of more than 300 people in Westbury High School's Cecil B. Rice Auditorium, Evans shared the story of Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, the blues singer whose song "Hound Dog" was made famous by Elvis Presley.

Evans' performance, based on writer Alice Walker's story "Nineteen Fifty-Five," provided a lesson in Black history during an afternoon filled with dance, song and celebration.

"The teacher in me says everybody go on home and Google who Big Mama Thornton was," Evans, who works at The City College of New York, told the audience after a round of applause.

Kappa Leaguers of Wyandanch High School dance during the Westbury Arts...

Kappa Leaguers of Wyandanch High School dance during the Westbury Arts Black History Month Celebration at Westbury High School on Saturday. Credit: Howard Simmons

Pat Jenkins Lewis, a board member of Westbury Arts, a nonprofit group that promotes arts and culture events, organized the celebration along with her daughter, Angela Jenkins. The event, now in its sixth year, has grown each year from its first small gathering at the Village of Westbury's Recreation Center, the organizers said.

Angela Jenkins said she hopes people take away "the rich history and culture of Black people."

"We just want to continue to share that with a larger and larger population on Long Island," she said.

Members of the Praise Dance Ministry based at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Rockville Centre performed along with the Uniondale High School Show Choir known as "Rhythm of the Knight." Other performers included Danse Xpressions  based in Valley Stream and sororities and fraternities of the Nassau Suffolk Pan-Hellenic Council.

"It's really a wonderful time to bring the community together, the festivities and engagement," said Evans, a Westbury native who now lives in Roosevelt. "And it's not just for Black History Month. This is a time when the entire community comes together."

One of the performances through the Pan-Hellenic Council featured the Kappa Leaguers of Wyandanch High School. A youth service initiative of Kappa Alpha Psi, a predominantly Black fraternity, the students who sang and danced ranged from sophomores to seniors.

Wyandanch High School Principal Paul Sibblies is a member of the fraternity from Hofstra University. Nineteen students formed the chapter in 2018 and it has now grown to 46.

"Our job as the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi is to guide these young men," Sibblies said.

Early in the event, the audience sang the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as images of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama and other prominent figures and moments in Black history were shown on screen.

Alicia Jenkins said the way the event has grown was "a testament to the fact that we're presenting the kind of information people want to hear in a way that's fun and engaging and family-friendly."

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