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Ward 4 celebrates Black History Month

Amani Riley bounced up and down in her seat. She could hardly sit still. Riley tossed her long, black braids over her shoulder and showed teeth as white as milk.

“We’ve been practicing all day,” the third-grade student said.

Minutes later, Riley and her Clark Elementary School classmates, clad in purple shirts, stepped on stage at the Larry D. Striplin Performing Arts. The students sang and spoke as part of Celebrating Black History: Through Messages. Residents of Selma’s Ward 4 organized the event, which showcased black history through song, debate and oral demonstrations.

“I think it’s so important, not just for my ward, but for the city of Selma that we embrace this culture that’s so sewn into the fiber of America,” Ward 4 councilwoman Angela Benjamin said.

Program chair Dondra Green said she was pleased with the turn out. People filled almost every seat on the floor, and tiny heads peered over the balcony. Green said she hoped when Ward 4 residents walked out the door, they would return home with new friends.

“We just wanted to do something to bring the kids together,” Green said. “Just get the ward itself to start communicating with each other and helping each other.”

Students in the Clark Elementary Choir swayed and clapped while they sang “Go Down Moses” a cappella. Amari Solomon and Jovonte Sanders performed a debate as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

The entire audience stood and applauded Clark Elementary students after they recited an oral history of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. First-grade student Michael Watts said his class learned as much as they could about King.

“We learned to get along,” Watts said. “We learned not to fight.”

The students even learned how to speak like King.

“And they pronounced every word,” Benjamin said. “You don’t find adults that can do that.”

Mayor George Evans said he was proud to see the students immersed in Black History.

“I just know it can’t help but to give recognition to those who struggled before us,” Evans said. “They have a history that they can build on.”

The celebration honored some local heroes, too. Past a seemingly endless table of home-cooked food, original art by local artists hung on the wall. Mactrica Shannon walked toward a table on the left side of the room. Art by her children, Henry and Tanikea, and her mother, Robbie, was displayed on the tabletop. Mactrica said the celebration highlights Selma’s past and present. In this case, two generations of Shannon artists.

“This is just all our talent that’s here in Selma,” she said. “It goes a little bit deeper than people would think.”