JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Explore Middle School celebrated Black History Month on Thursday morning with a culminating assembly featuring keynote speakers United States Olympian, Gail Marquis, and former Ebony fashion commentator, Audrey Smaltz. The assembly also featured remarks by County Executive Tom DeGise, music from The Spirit of Life Ensemble Band, and multiple student performances.
Principal Allyson Krone opened the ceremony by welcoming all students, faculty, friends and special guests and reminding them that at Explore Middle School, students and staff incorporate black history year-round, not just in February. But, they use the month of February to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.
“Today, on February 28, the last day of February, we are here to explore and celebrate Black History Month with this important and very special event,” said Krone. “We reinforce to our students that black history is American history and is relevant to all students. We also include the political and social context of the community's struggle for social justice.”
Gail Marquis, an 11-time Hall of Famer and the first woman of color inducted in 2009 to the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, shared her story of being a member of the first United States Women’s Basketball Team at the 1976 Olympics where she won a silver medal. She encouraged students to accomplish all of their goals and fight for the successes they wish to achieve.
“Sometimes you have to see things that are not there,” Marquis told students. “You have to dream things that are not there. You have to see the vision. You have to see it and then you step into it. Very often I will tell people close your
eyes and put yourself in that space and just visualize yourself in that setting. When you open your eyes, you will be surprised with what you can accomplish.”
Audrey Smaltz, a former model, fashion editor, and commentator shared her experiences as a black woman in the fashion industry and some of the prejudices she encountered. She told students they should say their names proudly, pausing between their first and last name, when they introduce themselves and to always network with those around them.
“Meet people from all different walks of life, high, low, those smarter than you, taller than you, bigger than you, cooler than you, prettier than you, hair longer than yours, whatever: get to meet all kinds of people,” Smaltz told students.
As part of the assembly, sixth grader Gabriel Marandino passionately recited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech. This week, Gabriel won second place in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratory Contest held at City Hall in Jersey City.
Eighth-grader and student council vice president, Myles Morales, followed Gabriel with an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s speech marking the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. He expressed his excitement of how the entire Explore Middle School community worked together to celebrate Black History Month.
“Kids of all different races came together and were part of this program and I think that’s great,” Myles said.
Students also dressed as notable black, Jersey City natives including the Honorable Judge Shirley Tolentino, the Honorable Glenn D. Cunningham, Dr. Earl Byrd, Mr. Samuel R. Shelton, and Dr. Lena Frances Edwards. Each student shared
a brief presentation on the history of each figure as guests walked in the door, similar to a living museum.
Eighth-grade student Sasha Caines performed the National Anthem, Ayele Hyde, also an eighth grader, sang “Too Beautiful for Words,” and the Explore Voices performed a rendition of “Wade in the Water.”
The event closed with musical numbers from the Spirit of Life Ensemble Band and remarks from the Acting Superintendent.
“As one of the most diverse communities in the entire country, we must give our students the opportunity to embrace and celebrate all cultural backgrounds,” said Acting Superintendent Amy Lin-Rodriguez. “Listening to the stories of Gail Marquis and Audrey Smaltz was an inspiring and motivational experience that will stick with Explore Middle School students for years to come.”