Last week the 450 students at Christiansburg Primary School filed into the school’s multi-purpose room to learn about Creole culture from Christiansburg resident Shawanda Marie Williams.
Williams was all decked out in clothing that reflected the garb worn by Creole women of early 18ty and 19th Century New Orleans, her hometown.
A Creole herself, she started her presentation by asking the children to think about the meaning of the word “culture,” and one student answered, “something we do every day.”
She told about the ordinary task of going with her grandmother to the grocery store to “make (buy) groceries.” When home, she would have to help “save the dishes,” meaning she would put them away.
“We spoke a little French in New Orleans when I was a little girl,” she said. Teaching them the expression “e la ba,” which means “hey, over there,” helped her call them back to quiet attention when they got squirmy.
Williams is an encyclopedia of Mardi Gras information, so she shared parade customs.
“It’s the biggest party in the world, “she said. “There are millions of people in the streets.”
She showed slides of different characters and costumes visible during that event and taught them to clap in a unique rhythm used to start the parade.
She also showed slides of food, including crawfish, explaining that “etouffee” means smothered.
“We eat everything over rice,” she added.
Williams has lived in Christiansburg for the past 20 years, but she brought fond memories and practiced cooking skills with her. She has established a business, “Creole Cooking Pot” that allows her to cook, serve and tell about the culinary treasures of New Orleans.
I am a culinary storyteller,” she writes on her website, www.creolestorypot.com.
Across the county at Price’s Fork Elementary, students were looking forward to a songfest presented by Bright Star, a production company out of North Carolina that focuses on black cultural education.
Principal Kelly Rourke said she had noticed that students are paying attention to television screens in the school that depict moments in Black history.
“Kids are stopping and reading,” she said. “Parents have commented that they like the (lessons), too.”
At Margaret Beeks Elementary School, Principal Micah Mefford said a teacher and a parent worked to update the school’s mural. Created in 1962, the mural depicts students, but ethnicities were left out.
Parent volunteer Caroline Mullins and teacher Jamie Shupe worked together to modify the mural and update it by adding students of diverse backgrounds. Their work was completed last week, Mefford said.
At BHS, students and teachers have found many ways to highlight Black History Month, according to Lisa Newman, sponsor of the school’s Black Awareness Club. An assembly last week was a highlight, where two step teams (one from Radford University and another from Virginia Tech) were scheduled to perform. Members of the high school’s musical theater troupe planned to perform a Whitney Houston favorite, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
Oliver Lewis, Principal at Christiansburg Primary School, was invited to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to open the assembly. The guest speaker, Joe Harris, graduated from Salem High School.
He was expected to talk about his career as an artist, teacher and administrator in North Carolina Schools.
The assembly was to close with a New Orleans grocery cart parade that students learned about from a senior who grew up there. Students donated non-perishable food items.
Wade’s Grocery Store loaned them grocery carts, and they were expected to roll the carts across the stage in a contest for the most food gathered and the “best cart” prize.
The food donations will be given to the Interfaith Food Pantry.
Black History Month began in 1970 as a way for society in general and schools in particular to examine and promote pride in black history.