Throughout the month of February, as King celebrates Black History Month, a host of interesting guests have visited campus to share their unique stories with students. The Middle and Upper Schools welcomed Geiszel and Manual Godoy, owners of Black Sands Entertainment. The Lower School hosted Danielle Robinson, niece of prominent singer and record label executive Sylvia Robinson, and Rochelle Ballantyne, slated to become the first female African American chess master. Each visit contributed its unique perspective to the school’s theme for Black History Month, “Expressions of Excellence and Joy of the African Diaspora.”
Black Sands Entertainment specializes in graphic novels and is the leading Black publishing house in the nation. During their visit, owners Geiszel and Manuel Godoy met with an Upper School drawing class and a Middle School digital media class. They also spent time with the Middle School affinity group Students of Color at King (SOCK).
“When I was growing up, there weren’t many people of color in stories,” said Geiszel as she discussed the origins of the company during her meeting with SOCK. “My husband and I wanted to see more of our people in the spotlight to celebrate our rich history in a fun and exciting way.”
Characters of color are featured in each of their graphic novels, which tell stories that highlight the historical impact of the African diaspora in settings like Egypt and Brazil. The couple traveled to Brazil to explore the African influence on Brazilian culture and used their experience as inspiration for one of their books, “Mori’s Family Adventures.”
In the Lower School, Danielle Robinson met with third, fourth, and fifth grade students to share a history of hip-hop. Her aunt, Sylvia Robinson, was an influential singer, record producer, and record label executive known for co-founding Sugar Hill Records. The label is credited with signing the hip-hop trio the Sugarhill Gang, and producing the group’s hit “Rappers Delight,” the first rap single to become a top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
“The students enjoyed learning about the connections between poetry and rap and how graffiti art also influenced the culture of hip-hop,” said Head of Lower School Dr. Sandy Lizaire-Duff.
Robinson read “The Mirror and Me,” a story about a young South African student adjusting to a new school in New York City. The rhyming book is authored by rapper Common.
Rochelle Ballantyne also shared her journey to becoming a chess master with Lower School students. Ballantyne, a Brooklyn native, began playing chess at 8 years old and credited her grandmother with introducing her to the game.
“Chess has allowed me to travel the world. I’ve been to places like Dubai and Brazil to represent America in world chess championships,” said Ballantyne, who is currently in her second year of law school at New York University.
According to the United States Chess Federation, Ballantyne is currently ranked at the expert level, with a rating of approximately 2,000. Once she reaches a rating of 2,500, which can only be accomplished by winning more matches, Ballantyne will be the first African American woman to become a chess master in the United States.
“Chess has given me confidence because it’s such a male-dominated sport,” said Ballantyne, who added that her most recent coach is Maurice Ashley, the first Jamaican-American to earn a grandmaster title with the International Chess Federation.
Ballantyne read “Hidden Figures” to Kindergarten, first and second grade students, highlighting the contributions to science, aeronautics, and space exploration by four Black women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden.
The women also made contributions to the field of mathematics. Accordingly, Middle School mathematics teacher Carol Brown played the movie “Hidden Figures” for her students.
“In the movie Hidden Figures, Mary Jackson’s dream is to become an engineer for NASA, but she hits a roadblock upon learning that a segregated school is the only place to take the required courses,” said eighth grade student Sienna Barlow. “So what does Mary do? Mary takes it to court, and she perseveres. It was one step forward in the long fight to end segregation, and create the mindset, and the idea of what is commonly known today as Black excellence.”
In addition to these special events, the celebration of Black History Month at King has been infused into assignments throughout February. Students in the Lower School have been reading books, watching movies, and discussing what they learned together. In the Middle School, extended advisories were dedicated to examining two figures of inspiration - one a pioneer from the past whose accomplishments paved the way for another figure of today.
Students in the Upper School focused on a different discipline each week, featuring Black excellence in visual arts and literature, sports and media, politics and activism, and STEM.
“It was absolutely fantastic to see highlighted examples of contributions made by Black people to our society. Too often are these significant achievements swallowed in the sands of time,” said junior Kenny Backes, who recently attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference. “It’s impossible for us to learn about everything in a month, but the self-guided learning options were a fantastic way to celebrate the contributions of Black people.”