How to make black history relevant for today’s students? Why not let them tell the stories that interest them through art and multimedia?
That was the approach taken this year, as WKYC collaborated with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District on a wide-ranging project that let students’ imaginations run free.
The results, featured all month on WKYC newscasts and our noon on Fridays We The People show, have put a fresh spotlight on the African-American history-makers who hail from Cleveland.
Students at Cleveland High School for Digital Arts created a virtual reality “museum” that allows guests to “touch” Halle Berry’s Oscar statuette and to handle a platinum record by Bone Thugs N Harmony.
And Cleveland School of the Arts students performed in a whimsical play that danced back and forth through time, depicting Garrett Morgan “pitching” his famous invention, the gas mask, on a Shark Tank-like TV show. Another scene featured acting pioneers Dorothy Dandridge and Ruby Dee chatting about their achievements on a talk show with contemporary stars Halle Berry and Yvette Nicole Brown.
The project was conceived by CMSD’s News Bureau team and WKYC. It got underway in the fall when a busload of students from Cleveland High School for Digital Arts, across the street from WKYC, took a tour of Cleveland’s black history sites. WKYC Director of Advocacy & Community Initiatives Margaret Bernstein narrated the tour.
From there, the digital arts students created tributes to local black history figures using high-tech tools like graphic design and animation, digital music and virtual reality.
Some students produced graphic portraits, or “vectors,” of Cleveland history makers like Dorothy Dandridge, Garrett Morgan and Carl and Louis Stokes. A local business, Consolidated Printing, enlarged some of their work into colorful posters which were displayed in WKYC’s main hallway during February.
The digital arts students did heavy research on local African-American figures who made history. Along the way they learned a lot about history-making graduates of Cleveland schools, from poet Langston Hughes, a graduate of Central High, to Glenville High graduate Steve Harvey, now a major figure in TV entertainment.
Cleveland High School for Digital Arts student Marvin Watts took their research and wrote up a rough draft for a play.
Scott Miller, head of the Cleveland School of the Arts drama department, took it from there, weaving the pieces into a play, “I Dream of Cleveland.” Similar to an urban version of “A Christmas Carol,” the story centers around Bianca, a girl who has no interest in studying black history but, once she’s visited by the spirit of Langston Hughes, she begins to understand the struggles and significance of those who came before her.
The play was performed in late February by Cleveland School of the Arts students. The show traveled to five CMSD schools and was viewed by more than 1,500 students. It was produced by Miller and directed by Jimmie Woody.
More than a dozen students who participated in the project have been appearing on WKYC throughout February, in a series of Black History Month commercials produced by Monique Jackson, the station’s director of brand strategy.