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Nyesha sitting in front of a statue
Nyesha Johnson-Blewett sits in front of a statue commemorating Black History Month.

Scholarship performance celebrates Black History Month

The achievements of African American leaders have made a significant impact on the history of the United States. On February 22, Nyesha Johnson-Blewett performed in a Student Talent Show Competition (by the TRUSD Department of Education) at the Capital Mall Auditorium. Mr. Chaun Emery-Slack, aware of Johnson-Blewett's talents in dance, introduced her to the opportunity.

The purpose of the event was to celebrate the achievements of African-American leaders and to honor the celebration of Black History Month in the month of February.

The event consisted of two portions. The first was an educational presentation focusing on the purpose and historical aspects of Black History Month. The second portion consisted of celebratory festivities included singing choirs, a band, and a speech presentation expressing the "Power of Words." Afterwards, middle school and high school students were invited to compete in the Student Talent Show competition to win a $100 scholarship and an awarding certificate.

The theme of the competition was the significance and meaning of Black History Month, as well as the achievements and contributions of historical black leaders.

Students were encouraged to express their creativity through singing, dancing, poetry, and musical instruments. Johnson-Blewett composed an original dance piece to the lyric "Ballad of Birmingham," which was created after the original poem "Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall. Her performance truly brought to life the emotions of the African Americans' fight for equality. Her movements and expressions were captivating to the audience, and she received a standing ovation. Johnson-Blewett was the winner and recipient of the $100 scholarship.

"This lyric was introduced to me in Mrs. [Patricia] Barrett's AP English class and I chose to dance to it because the struggle of the story inspired me to embrace unforgettable memories in black history," Johnson-Blewett said. "Overall, the experience was one that I would gladly live again, and I am thankful for the opportunity."

The focus of the poem is the 1963 Civil Rights Movement. "Ballad of Birmingham" highlights the emotions and losses that resulted from the bombing of the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963. The poem tells the true story of an African-American girl who wished to march the streets of Birmingham in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the daughter's pleading, her mother refused to let her daughter attend the march. The mother believed the march would be too dangerous, and instead, she sent her daughter to church. Ironically, the church was bombed and the young girl died.

The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was commonly used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Shutterworth, and this may have made it a target for bombing. The intensity of the civil rights situation increased when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) became involved in a campaign to register African Americans to vote in Birmingham. Four girls, who were attending Sunday school classes at the church, were killed in the bombing. Twenty-three other people were also injured by the explosion. The poem was written in their honor. The poem "Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall is below.


Ballad of Birmingham

"Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?"

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren't good for a little child."

"But, mother, I won't be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free."

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children's choir."

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?"


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