“An Evening of Words and Song” celebrates Black art and culture

By Emma Russell

Student Life Editor

On Feb. 25,  the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, in collaboration with Kohl Gallery and Chesapeake Heartland hosted “An Evening of Words and Song,” the third and final event in the public community conversations series. 

“What we share with you this evening is a program of original poetry and poignant songs performed by some of the areas most esteemed poets and performers, accompanied by brief interludes offered by Jason [Patterson] that highlight works in the exhibit [On the Black History of Kent County]. A particularly exciting element of this program is it’s profound intergenerational mix of artists that come together from both the local community and the college community, a wonderful tribute to both the exhibit and the mission of the Chesapeake Heartland project,” Director and Curator for the Kohl Gallery and Lecturer in Studio Art Tara Gladden said in her opening statement.

Community historian for Chesapeake Heartland Airlee Johnson, explained the relationship between the Starr Center and Chesapeake Heartland.

“Chesapeake Heartland, which is part of the Starr Center, is an African American humanities project whose purpose is to persevere and digitize African American history,” Johnson said. “As we study African Americans’ history and the great achievements the Black race has made to the entire American culture, we realize that Black history is being expanded from one month, of February, to the entire…year.”

The event was emceed by published author, singer, photographer, board member and treasurer of Center Hall, and host of the radio show “The Sunday Jazz Experience,” Yvette Hynson and included a mix of live and pre-recorded performances. 

The first performer was award winning musician and producer Karen Somerville. Somerville performed a live rendition of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing”  which Hynson said was considered “the Black national anthem”   and “I Wish I Could Be Free” by Nina Simone. 

Somerville wasn’t the only musical performer of the night, Kentavius Jones performed songs “Hand on the Plow,” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”

Technical difficulties delayed some events but couldn’t put a stop to sophomore Starr Center intern Ifediba Diana Moneke’s untitled original piece of spoken word poetry. 

Local performing artist Tevi Ann Swinson recited her original spoken word poem “Their Story” live, which she dedicated to her mother’s strength. 

Professor of Spanish and the Director of the Black Studies Program Elena Deanda-Camacho read her original poem which was titled “The Colors of the U.S.” live, and according to Hynson the poem is “a piece of [Deanda-Camacho’s] written work on U.S. politics.” 

Award winning, internationally acclaimed screenwriter, playwright, and poet Robert Earl Price read three original poems of remembrance. 

The night ended with an excerpt from an interview with Reverend Mae Etta Moore, who “shares her wisdom and sings to us in Spanish,” Hynson said.

Patterson showed a number of pieces between performances, but the last piece was specifically for the WC community.

The piece was three portraits of the first African American graduates from WC, including Thomas Edgar Morris ’62, Patricia Godblot ’64, and Shirley Dale Patterson ’65.

“Thomas Morris who was the first graduate, graduated in 1962. Now that was only 59 years, which is not that long ago. What’s really important for us to consider is that WC, as we all know, was the first American college, established after the American Revolution. The College was established in 1782, meaning it took 180 years for WC to graduate an African American student,” Patterson said.

This year, the College renamed Harford Hall after Morris. The residence hall is now called Thomas E. Morris Hall, which is highlighted in WC’s newly implemented Asterisk Initiative. 

According to Patterson, before Godblot attended WC and became the first African American woman to graduate from the College, she made history in 1960 by being the first African American to graduate from the integrated Virginia public school system.

Dale Patterson became the first African American member on the Board of Visitors and Governors at WC, during the ’80s

“So, these three graduates all contributed so much to WC while also going on and bettering their communities, and here in the United States and even abroad. So it was really an honor not only to be able to create these artworks but to interact with these great people’s families,” Patterson said. He received permission from each of the late graduates’ families to include their portraits in the exhibit. 

To learn more about the Chesapeake Heartland, see Patterson’s exhibit, and watch the full interview with Reverend Mae Etta Moore, check out their website: https://chesapeakeheartland.org/about-chesapeake-heartland

Featured Photo caption: Sophomore Ifediba Diana Moneke performs her original spoken word poetry as part of “An Evening of Words and Song” event. Photo by Izze Rios.

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