Letting their voices be heard: Sunday program celebrating Black History Month will be first public speaking for some students

Michael Smith
Ardmore Middle School students pose with their teacher on Tuesday. (L to R): Jeremiah Still, Jayvn Horton, Davion Miller, Antonio Taylor, DuShawn Carter, Noa Seals, Kauri Roberson, Mary Johnson, Taytum Smith, Jayniyah Reed, Shaylin Sykes, Leeandra Whittington, Armony Hicks, Layla Flenory, Zoe Credle

A group of Ardmore Middle School students will be channeling one of our nation’s most profound orators this weekend with a little help from one of our community’s most celebrated educators. The African American Culture Committee will be holding its annual Black History Program on Sunday, an event scheduled to include speakers and music.

Ardmore Middle School teacher Mary Johnson, known by many as “The Fox,” said she witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his first speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963. That first-hand experience is helping 15 of her students channel the civil rights activist for their portion of Sunday’s program.

On Tuesday, several of the students recited portions of famous King speeches to prepare for the program. Student Noa Seals said practicing for the event has taught him more about King, including his roots in the Deep South, success as a public speaker and his subsequent assassination.

While speaking her part, its obvious student Leeandra Whittington has been listening to King recordings as her voice bore a resemblance to that of his. “You have to put more feeling in whenever you’re speaking,” Whittington said.

“You have to act out the part that you’re saying, you can’t just talk,” said student Shaylin Sykes. While studying her selection, Sykes said she has learned how to use vocal dynamics and body language to improve her public speaking.

While all of the students spoke their parts with confidence on Tuesday, Johnson was proud to remind that this would be the first public speaking event for most of the students. “These kids never spoke in front of anybody, but my job is to convince these kids ‘you can do this’,” she said. “Nobody was born shy, that is an excuse and I don’t know why people always say that.”

The annual Black History Program will also feature guest speaker Dr. Terrick Washington, an Ardmore-based dentist, and include choral music by Ardmore Middle School students.

The African American Culture Committee’s annual Black History Program will be held on Sunday, Feb. 9 at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Ardmore. The program is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.