In New Orleans, February usually means it’s time to catch a Mardi Gras parade and learn about Black History Month. For the educators at CCS, they were tasked with bringing in the Mardi Gras season for their scholars who have had an unprecedented school year while paying homage to the Black history that surrounds them.
Harriet Tubman Principal Zonda Howard had her hands full when scholars returned to their classes and she had to navigate her role as principal during a pandemic. A New Orleans native, Principal Howard uses her knowledge as a former instructional and enrichment teacher to showcase the thriving culture that her scholars hail from. With her principalship, she aimed to instill “that feeling of pride, that feeling of belonging, of seeing themselves” in her scholars with this year’s Mardi Gras and Black History Month celebrations, she said.
Because most of the Tubman student population is from New Orleans, and predominantly Black, Tubman has always honored both celebrations each year.
Principal Howard says that “In the past, Tubman has hosted a parade around campus. The parade was assigned a theme that was connected to Black history, and each classroom’s float was related to a Black history event or person.”
Howard lists “Famous Black Women” and “Important Historical Events in Black History” as some of the past themes for their Mardi Gras celebrations. Since Mardi Gras often takes place in February, there is often a natural overlap between Mardi Gras festivities and Black History Month. However, Howard worked to “be intentional about separating the two, making sure that they are two specific and different celebrations” this year.
Tubman commemorated these celebrations through a Black History program video that featured Black and African dances, such as bop and swing, as well as highlighted the impact of African Americans on music history. In addition to this education, Tubman hosted student poetry readings and musical concerts, as well as invited diverse industry leaders to give virtual presentations on their careers for Tubman’s scholars. Scholars got the chance to express themselves through art projects, including intricate door decorating and unique class parade throws.
“Our kids feel a sense of accomplishment and pride” when participating in the Mardi Gras and Black History Month activities, Howard added. The halls of the school buzzed with excitement, as students eagerly prepared their contributions and felt empowered by the information they were learning. For them, this was a chance to not only show off some of their talents, but it was a fun way to bring awareness to lesser known historical figures. By knowing their history, scholars can aspire to achieve greatness, and Tubman educators are excited to foster these aspirations.
“We don’t know which scholar at our school right now could become the history maker of the next generation, so they need to not only understand where they come from, what we’ve been through; but to honor it and celebrate it,” Tubman Montessori School Social Worker Marissa Williams said.
Principal Howard intended to do just that by bringing her scholars that much-needed “spark of joy” when celebrating both Mardi Gras and Black History Month.
In the future, Howard hopes to expand the cultural celebration. She hopes that one day it could evolve into a larger network fair or cultural event, where all of the schools and the greater community could participate and learn from one another, which ultimately is what Mardi Gras and Black History Month are all about.
“Mardi Gras, for folks in New Orleans, is just a part of who we are. It’s a celebration of our uniqueness, and unfortunately, we don’t get to celebrate that this year in the way that we’ve always done,” Principal Howard said when discussing her hopes for the festivities. “I want this to be a reminder of what makes New Orleans, New Orleans.”