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Black History celebration aims to ‘nurture our roots’

Students and families who visit Poughkeepsie Middle School next Friday evening can expect to find food, music and entertainment.

They also can expect to learn more about Black culture and, organizers hope, walk away feeling empowered.

“We’re nurturing our roots to grow our future,” said Natasha Brown, executive director of Community Schools for the Poughkeepsie City School District.

The Community Schools department is hosting a celebration of Black History Month and the African Diaspora, free to district families, Feb. 23.

“We’re really celebrating Black excellence,” Brown said, noting it as a theme in one of the videos that will be shown to attendees. “Our school is full of Black excellence. We’re taking a moment to put that in the spotlight.”

Entertainment for the inaugural event will mix history with the present, while the food will showcase Black entrepreneurs. 

Performances through the night will span a variety of music and styles, including exhibitions from some Poughkeepsie students’ groups, such as the Mighty Young Techs baton twirlers, the Saturday Morning Lights marching band, poetry from Poughkeepsie Middle School students and string music from elementary students. The high school cheerleading squad and the Tighten Ups drill team are set to perform, as is singer and Krieger elementary student Heaven Murphy.

Members of the National Honor Society will also be on hand for face painting, and there will be African drumming and dancing performances.

Kevin Douglass Greene, a great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, is slated to speak about the life and legacy of the famed abolitionist and orator.

“We would like to take a moment to focus our attention on celebrating the various contributions that Black Americans have contributed to society,” Brown said.

Dr. Edward Antonio, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Marist College, will also speak.

Several local Black-owned businesses are among those providing food and drink for tasting. Some of the businesses contributing are Essie’s Restaurant, Dulce Cafe, Empire Jamaican Fusion Restaurant, Upstream Cafe, Geneva's House of Blues, Pat’s Kitchen and personal chef Nirva Llorca. 

Other organizations and businesses providing services and education include Silver Linings, the Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, K's Aromatics Gifts, Lo'Kel-Li Vendor Market, Shopping Reveal, STEM Program, Charlia Frank, Zen Lounge, Amayzyn Designs, Sisters in Christ United women’s ministry, the Skip Lee Foundation, NDB Athletics and the Allstate insurance company.

“We’re providing our students with an opportunity to engage and assimilate with business owners who look just like them,” Brown said. “I hope students and families will come out inspired.”

The celebration is scheduled to start 5 p.m. in the middle school’s auditorium.