Black History and the Arts: Celebrating Visual Excellence

As February unfolds, our school district highlights the importance of Black History Month under the theme “African Americans and the Arts.” To mark this celebration, the district welcomed three distinguished artists to the middle schools, each showcasing their unique talents and perspectives. 

“Our goal with this event was to provide students with the opportunity to engage directly with local African American artists to learn about their inspiration and journey into the art world. Sometimes I think we spend so much time teaching about historical figures in our celebration of Black History Month, that we forget to explore and celebrate what is happening right now within the African American community.” said Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Coordinator, April Mlambi. While working closely with Lisha Kill’s Jackie Mcalmont on this project, the pair conceptualized and executed these artist visits in honor of Black History Month. Mlambi added “By providing direct access to these artists, their work and their stories, we hope to enrich students’ perspectives and foster appreciation for a variety of art forms and expressions of the African American experience.”

A group of six people- two students, two artists and two Lisha Kill staff members- stand side by side, smiling. The students and Lisha Kill staff members are wearing t-shirts with the phrase "Black History is American History" on the front- worn in celebration of the artist visit and Black History Month.
(Left-right) Two Lisha Kill students smile next to artist Jasenya McCauley, Lisha Kill staff members Jacqueline Mcalmont, Jill Penn, and artist Tyler Ki-Re.

Jackie, having been a driving force in the celebration of Black History month for multiple consecutive years, states “these events are imperative in opening a dialogue with students, giving them the opportunity to learn and discuss black history and further their understanding of one another.” Jackie had been inspired to get involved with the celebration of Black History Month as a result of observations and experiences as one of the few Black staff members in the district. Building upon this, Jackie stated “I knew that I had the power to make a difference. I had a duty to the kids and to myself, to educate and empower those around me.  Students of color may not always feel comfortable speaking up, but as a member of the Black community and as an adult and longtime employee in the district, I am able to advocate and shine a light on their experience.” Jackie concludes with a touching sentiment, stating “I know how important the celebration of Black History Month is to our Black students and am proud to be a part of that celebration.  I know this is important because of the feedback I have received from students. For example, I was so touched when a sixth grader came up to me and excitedly wished “Happy Black History Month!”   

Having hand selected each artist for their unique perspectives and talents, the pair set out to introduce these ideas and these artists to the student body.

Seven people are seen standing in ront of a table with four mixed- media art pieces displayed on top. All of these individuals are Sand Creek students except for artist D. Colin- seen on the far right of the picture. All are smiling for the camera.
Artist D. Colin poses with Sand Creek students beside her display.

D. Colin, a Haitian American multidisciplinary artist, captivates her audiences with her self-published works, dynamic performances and bold visual art. Rooted in English and Africana Studies, Colin’s mantra, “Be inspired. Then inspire,” embodies the essence of her creative ethos. To learn more about artist D. Colin click here. 

Artist Jasenya McCauley can be seen standing in front of the large bulletin board she brought in for her presentation. She is smiling widely and holding up a peace sign. Behind her on the board are rows and rows of outfits she had curated for clients- these outfits appear on TV and occasionally the theatre.
Artist Jasenya McCauley poses between presentations at Lisha Kill.

Jasenya McCauley, the visionary behind Styld n’ EMRGD, brings a fresh approach to fashion, advocating for sustainable wardrobe practices and individual expression. Her journey from fashion merchandising to business management reflects a commitment to redefining style beyond trends, emphasizing personal empowerment and environmental consciousness o learn more about artist Jasenya McCauley click here. 

Tyler Ki-Re, a New York-based Fashion Editorial Photographer and Creative Director, challenges conventions by blending editorial photography with everyday settings, creating a compelling narrative that resonates with viewers. Through her avant-garde lens, Ki-Re invites us to explore the intersection of identity and perception in the mundane. To learn more about artist Tyler Ki-Re click here. 

photo is taken from the back of a small library classroom filled with three rows of chairs at one end and Tyler Ki Re speaking on the other. The chairs are filled with students facing forward (except for one student looking back at the camera, smiling) listening to the presentation. Tyler Ki-Re paces in the front describing her photography process, she is speaking with her hands and there is deep passion written plainly across her face. She walks near a table she has set up that sports her logo and a myriad of pictures she has printed to share.
Artist Tyler Ki-Re addresses Lisha Kill students.

“Interacting with students during our time in the middle schools has been incredibly rewarding,” said visiting artist Jasenya McCauley. “It’s heartening to see young minds engage with art and ideas that may inspire them to discover more about Black culture beyond Black History Month.” Artist Tyler Ki-Re echoed similar sentiments, saying, “I hope the students can take away from this experience that art isn’t some unobtainable thing; there are numerous ways to use art to tell your story.”

Both artists conveyed their enjoyment in interacting with students from each middle school, expressing appreciation for the questions posed and the excitement of seizing such learning opportunities.

Through DEI initiatives like these, the district aims to further cultivate an inclusive learning environment where students are empowered to embrace diverse perspectives and forge connections across cultures. More about this work can be found here.