Music is one of the defining features of a culture. On Thursday night, students and faculty from the Westbury Union Free School District made a statement about their community’s diversity through musical performances at the second annual Town of North Hempstead Black History Month celebration, held at Westbury High School on Post Avenue.
“For a long time, black history wasn’t documented in America,” said North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell, who co-sponsored the event with North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman and the North Hempstead Town Board. “Especially for the students, it [Black History Month] is a sense of pride for them.”
Russell hosted the evening’s events, which included musical performances from students representing each of the six Westbury schools.
The chamber ensemble from Westbury Middle School performed Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Konzert Musik,” displaying the vast spectrum of musical genres represented at the event. Other performances included Chuck Berry’s rock-and-roll hit “Johnny B. Goode,” performed by the Powells Lane Elemenary School jazz band; “All Night, All Day,” an African-American spiritual sung by Drexel Avenue Elementary School fourth-grade students; and a high-energy instrumental performance from the Westbury Community School Bucket Drummers.
The Bucket Drummers had the audience members dancing in their seats, as director Napoleon Revels-Bey narrated the story of the history of African-American music from its tribal roots through the jazz era in Louisiana and ending with rock and roll in New York.
“We’re very proud of our community and our children, and tonight we see the great artistry in our district,” said Robert Brisbane, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and personnel for Westbury Schools. “The most important thing is to make sure they know they have a voice.”
Brisbane participated in the celebration, reading about black history on Long Island that includs the infamous Amistad slave ship rebellion and capture that occurred off the coast of Montauk in 1839.
Between the musical performances, there were several other readings about notable African-Americans living on Long Island.
The evening concluded with a liturgical dance performed by the Sanaa Movement, a Westbury-based group that uses African-inspired dance to promote spiritual and physical health.
“We’re celebrating all the great things African-Americans have done and what they’ve endured to get here,” said Chrissy West, 12, a sixth-grader at Westbury Middle School and violinist in the school’s chamber ensemble.
Drexel Avenue Elementary School fourth-graders perform "All Night, All Day," an African-American spiritual, during the Town of North Hempstead Black History Month celebration at Westbury High School. (Feb. 16, 2012)