February 20, 2023
ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (MERCER)–Dr. Leonidas Harris Berry was a Black physician who pioneered gastroenterology, the branch of medicine concerned with the digestive system, whose tireless work has inspired generations of African American students.
Christian Wright, a Robbinsville High School senior, is one example.
Wright spoke about Berry during a research presentation at the school’s Black History Month Festival, noting Berry’s significant contributions to public health and civil rights in the 20th century.
The 18-year-old was among numerous students who showcased their research on Black historical figures in the fields of education, politics, art, music, business and medicine.
Wright said the school’s festival, held Feb. 2, shined light on Black culture for the broader Robbinsville community.
“Black culture is excellence. Black culture is intelligence. Black culture is power,” Wright said. “There’s so many definitions to Black culture. It’s hard to define it as just one thing. I think that’s really the beauty of Black culture.”
Held every February, Black History Month is an annual opportunity to reflect on the history of the African American experience and to celebrate the achievements and promise of Black people throughout the country.
Members of the school’s Black Culture Club organized the festival. The club is an open space for Black and non-Black students to learn about Black culture and its history.
In addition to the research presentations, local and regional Black-owned businesses sold arts and crafts and served soul food like collard greens, candied yams, chicken and macaroni and cheese. There was also a DJ and the school’s jazz band performed.
Club members helped decorate the festival space and served as greeters, while Wright sold products from his own clothing brand, “Stay True.”
The club provides educational opportunities for all students to explore Black culture and its history throughout the year. Last year, club members traveled to Montclair State University to see an art exhibit and visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The club plans to visit the Apollo Theater in New York City later this year.
The club’s 75 members also held a day of service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day by inviting kids served through the HomeFront social services agency to the school, where group members and their guests ate pizza and played games.
This was the festival’s first year and organizers say they intend to make it an annual event.
“Black History Month is important because it highlights the significance of Black culture, contributions by Black people, inventors and creators,” Black Culture Club co-advisor Donald Estrada said. “It’s a very important part of the year for us.”
Students who attended the festival said they appreciated how it fostered a sense of togetherness. Senior Sahil Patil, who is of Indian ethnicity, said he was drawn to the gathering to learn about another culture and to spend time with friends.
“It’s a really good learning experience to diversify myself,” Patil said. “Going to these events, you can understand your friends more and connect with them at a deeper level.”
To be sure, the festival has pedagogical utility: Teacher Cameron Williams, who co-advises the club, said the process of organizing the event shows students the value of planning, following that plan and seeing it come to fruition.
But more importantly, Williams said, the festival was simply a way to celebrate community.
“It was an event of love, showing how we love each other,” Williams said.
Presenters Christian Wright, Jordan Baker, Gabe Gomez, Nana Appiah and Yaw Appiah.
Black Culture Club Co-Advisor Donald Estrada, vendor Treats by Tahj, Nana Appiah and Black Culture Club President Lebron Rose.
Jordan Baker, Lebron Rose and Nana Appiah.
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