Tuesday, May 28, 2024
May 28, 2024

GISS students organize Black History Month activities

Salt Spring gets to celebrate Black History Month with a musical powerhouse thanks to the efforts of some Gulf Islands Secondary School (GISS) students.

The high school’s Students for Racial Equity (SFRE) group has arranged for the Marcus Mosely Trio to visit the island on Feb. 20-21, with a presentation and workshop taking place at GISS, and the trio’s Songs of Freedom concert at ArtSpring on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds from the ArtSpring event will help SFRE organize more activities.

Mosely and fellow musicians Bill Sample and Darlene Cooper have had long and distinguished music and choral careers.

The idea to mark Black History Month this way originated with SFRE member and Grade 12 student Cole Thompson. When he and peer Claire Whitelaw were members of the Gulf Islands School of Performing Arts program last year, they participated in a community-wide choral workshop led by Mosely and hosted by Viva Chorale! Choir. Thompson thought the workshop had broad educational value and was supported by other SFRE club members in proposing a visit by Mosely.

“I was thinking about how educational that workshop was on a few different levels, because obviously, there’s the music aspect to it, but also just the history — all the meanings behind all of these songs, and the story of gospel in general, how that connects to the civil rights movement later on . . . it combines the music aspect along with the history, so it’s combining a couple of things that people might be interested in,” he said.

Whitelaw gave one example of a song’s origins gleaned from last year’s workshop. Up Above My Head, she explained, is about enslaved people who were hidden under floorboards in homes or in carriages as they were escaping. It refers to the singing heard above their heads while they were hiding, and also connects to angels singing in Heaven.

“So songs that we have heard out of context being put into context is really educational,” she said.

The Marcus Mosely Trio will give a presentation to a crowd of 200 at GISS on Feb. 20. Then 60 students will spend additional time in a workshop where the songs they learn will be performed the next day for Salt Spring Elementary School students in what they’re calling a Songs of Hope concert.

Whitelaw and Thompson stressed that youth participating in the workshop don’t need prior experience with music.

“The way [Mosely] teaches the songs is really accessible to people, because you don’t need to know how to read music, and you don’t need to have very much technique. You just need to listen to him and repeat back, basically,” said Whitelaw.

Thompson added that “a lot of the specific gospel techniques are new to a lot of people even in choir, so a lot of what you’re learning there is going to be new regardless, which kind of levels the playing field.”

Abby Bouchard is a SFRE member whose Social Studies 8 class members will be among the 200 hearing the trio’s presentation. Her class taught by Marla Renn did a deep dive into the history of the African slave trade this year, which Bouchard found super interesting.

“I think our Socials class this year was really important and really got a lot heavier than the classes I had previously experienced. We really dove into the slave trade and enslaved peoples more than anything else we did . . . it was a lot of learning to do to take it to another level from the level that we were taught in elementary schools.”

Bouchard’s research project for that class was to make a wooden puzzle that showed the trans-Atlantic slave-trading routes.

Shari Hambrook is the teacher connected to the SFRE group. She is also excited about next week’s activities, and notes that 40 vouchers for free tickets for the Mosely Trio concert have been made available for SD64 parents thanks to generous sponsorship from the District Parents’ Advisory Council. However, voucher requests must be made and tickets acquired from the ArtSpring box office by 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16. This link takes people to the applicable site. Concert tickets are otherwise available through ArtSpring.

Hambrook said the Salt Spring Historical Society and Archives is also contributing to events with a display about Black history on Salt Spring set up at both GISS and ArtSpring.

SFRE students also worked hard to submit a successful grant application to the Salt Spring Island Foundation. School District 64 has also supported the events.

SFRE originated in 2020 as an anti-racism collective in response to a racist incident that occurred at GISS. Thompson said the group is expanding activities to focus on education among the student populace.

The next GISS educational event is a school-wide “P is for Privilege” Zoom session offered by Montreal-based Overture With the Arts next month.

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