P1230351In his keynote address during Red Bank Regional’s Black History Month observance, Red Bank Middle School Vice Principal Julius Clark advised students that their success is of their own making — and not to let society’s stereotypes define them or be an excuse for failure.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

The diversity and talents of the Red Bank Regional High School student body were on full display during the annual celebratory assembly for Black History Month. Students from various groups within the school contributed their time and skills to enlighten their peers on the importance of celebrating Black History.

Principal Risa Clay explained the origins of Black History Month, an observance initiated by Harvard historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson during the month of February — the birthday month of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

“(Dr. Woodson’s) initial goal was to honor these two great leaders,” said Principal Clay. “His other goal was to infuse African American history into American history so that all Americans would learn the complete history of the United States.”

P1230447Pictured (front row, left to right) are some of the contributors to the Black History Month celebration at Red Bank Regional: Multicultural club Vandeka Rodgers, RBR principal Risa Clay, Creative Writing major Emily Lugos, Dancer Jenna Schneck, RBR Key Note Speaker Julius Clark, History Club Raquel Diaz, Multi-Cultural Club President Siobhan Hansen, strings major Kevin Velazquez, RBR Multi-Cultural club Adviser and event organizer Odilia Lligui. Back row: violinist Amy Thomas, History Club Morgan Brunson.

Speaking not just to the past, but to the future and personal responsibility, was the keynote speaker Julius Clark. The Vice Principal of Red Bank Middle School is an icon among many of the students at RBR, who he mentored through their middle school years.

Mr. Clark’s message was powerful and blunt. He warned the students against accepting stereotypes of people and using such as an excuse to fail.  He stated, “I do not let my color, or what people (might) think of me, to define who I am. You determine what others will think of you (by your actions).”

Like other young black men, Mr. Clark encountered racism, but saw it as a challenge to be overcome by education and perseverance, rather than violence (“That is what they were looking for”).  Instead his response was to achieve his Bachelor’s degree, then his Masters and, at the age of 31, the position of Vice Principal.

His philosophy of “Do unto others, as you would have done do you,” was echoed in his message to black males to treat females as they would like their mothers or sisters treated — and for females to respect themselves in their actions. He told the students to establish a goal, a plan, and then to work hard to achieve it, stating, “How do you know where you are going if you don’t have an idea of the destination you want to reach?…. And yes, sometimes you may fail, but your success will be determined on how you will overcome that failure.”

He cautioned them never ever, to say “I can’t do it…once you say I can’t, your goal is done.” He ended his speech with a demonstration, asking all the students to stand and reach as high as they could. Then he asked them to reach a little higher, stating, “Just know that when you think you have reached your capacity, you could always go a little higher.”

The Multicultural Club presented a summary of the evolution of Black music from the 1950s to the 1990s; highlighting such musical icons as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, James Brown and Whitney Houston.  The students also gave a demonstration on “Stepping,” popularized by Greek fraternities in historically black colleges which, like many other African-American inventions, spread to the greater American culture.

The History Club highlighted the lives of “Unsung Heroes” of the Civil Rights era, including such heroes and heroines as Dorothy Irene Height, Bayard Rustin, Daisy Bates, and Medgar Evers.

The RBR Visual and Performing Artists entertained their peers, with the Strings Ensemble performing “Amazing Grace” and “Movement and Blues.” The RBR Dancers performed a student-choreographed dance to “Ordinary Love,” the theme song for the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Creative writers and performance poets elicited the audience’s cheers with their captivating original works and performances related to contemporary events in Ferguson, MO and other parts of the country — events spotlighting the realization that, though civil rights have come a long way, there is still a ways to go.