Akil Mondesir spent a couple of months preparing for last Thursday’s Black History Month celebration at Bedford High School.
And after it was over, Mondesir, a BHS graduate and the schools’ METCO coordinator and diversity, equity, and inclusion director, said the experience was “something memorable – and hopefully annual.”
“I believe that the community was able to get a sense of not merely Black History Month but also of African Americans and the history of what we have been able to accomplish despite all that we have had to endure,” he asserted.
Four generations joined the celebration, which began in the cafeteria with barbecued chicken and ribs, macaroni and cheese, red velvet cake, and other soul food specialties.
More than 200 people moved into the gymnasium for the main events, including inspirational Black history lessons and activities presented via the performance poetry known as spoken word by former Brandeis University Dean of Students jamele adams. He emphasized through free verse and call-and-response the dignity and legacy of the METCO program.
The agenda also featured step dancing, an art form nurtured by historically Black fraternities and sororities over the past century. The intricacy and energy of the tradition were demonstrated by the G7, the girls’ step dance team that’s part of the BFAB (Born from a Boombox) student group at BHS.
“The team put in a lot of work and dedication towards the performance, while being diligent in their academic work,” said Brianna Beasley, the BHS graduate and staff member who is team advisor. “Being able to showcase these talents has been a blessing for not only myself but the surrounding families and community.”
Brandon Tilghman, president of the Greater Boston National Pan-Hellenic Council, summarized the history of the “Divine Nine” Black fraternities and sororities before presenting some sophisticated step routines with other former collegiate dancers.
School officials and community leaders were impressed with the celebration.
“I thought it was a fantastic event,” said Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad, citing the scores of parents, students, faculty, and community members on hand. He added “a special thanks” to Milly Arbaje-Thomas, executive director of METCO, for joining the festivities.
“The Bedford community certainly showed up and reinforced their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. As I looked around the gym, I was reminded of why our small but mighty community is so very special,” said BHS Principal Heather Galante.
Conrad’s predecessor, retired Superintendent (and BHS Principal) Jon Sills, was an enthusiastic participant. “The huge turnout, the joy radiating from the participants, the commitment to bringing people together across race and community filled me with hope,” he declared. “Bedford is a beacon to communities committed to equity.”
Co-sponsoring the evening with METCO was the BHS Parents Diversity Council, whose president, Kelly Korenak, said the Black History celebration “was just that: a fun and joyful celebration. It was a great opportunity to bring people together. The Parents Diversity Council was especially proud that it provided a chance to meet new people and engage with each other, an important part of building a Bedford that’s more inclusive for everyone.”
Bedford Police Detective Lt. Scott Jones agreed. “It was a great turnout and show of community support with our METCO partners. I had a great time. It was nice seeing our community come together, with food and music.”
BHS graduate Yvette Cheeks attended with her daughters and three grandchildren. “I really appreciated seeing so many community members, and the program presented was wonderful,” said Cheeks, whose mother, Irene Parker, was an early advocate for METCO in the Bedford schools and was coordinator for some 20 years.
Marilou Barsam, co-founder of Bedford Embraces Diversity, commented, “I felt like I was part of something very meaningful and powerful while honoring Black history. It’s not very often that I get to interact with so many from the Black community, and jamele made it so easy and fun for us to be proud to be together as one. The positive energy in the room thanks to the wonderful MC, food, and dancers was just electric.”
The group’s president, Tricia Anderson, added, “My impressions were a sense of pride and history, a feeling of joy and unity in coming together to celebrate, and the knowledge that the kids who come to Bedford with METCO make us better. I was happy to be part of it.”
Anna Septembre, BHS counselor and advisor to the Black Student Union, whose members handled the food service, said the event was “a wonderful way to highlight Black excellence in our community. Participation allowed attendees to become immersed in the tradition and education of Black culture as it progresses to future generations, to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the Bedford community.”
“The fact that we were able to pull this off and have alumni come back and support the event speaks volumes of what the METCO Program, the public schools system, and Bedford as a community means to them,” Mondesir said.
He thanked the PDC, Bedford Embraces Diversity, Arbaje-Thomas, Sills, fellow METCO directors, and DEI coordinators “for coming out and celebrating with us,” as well as Conrad, the BHS leadership team, and the custodial staff “for all their hard work and assistance with putting the night together.”
Mondesir also thanked the representatives of Alpha Phi Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho, as well as DJ ENYCE, the BHS graduate who provided the audio.