The Northmont Black Student Association worked with their high school to create an art display of Black historical figures showcased during teacher-parent conferences in mid-February, and they plan to keep the exhibit up until the end of the school year.
“I think the sense of community, and the fact that everybody, all ages, all grades, skin color, whatever was able to contribute to such a big exhibit — I think our school just needs more of that,” said Devin Chivers, an NBSA senior involved with the project.
The high school students collaborated with the high school English and art departments to write biographies of the portraits painted by the art students. Art students also painted banners with dreams for the future and took photos of Northmont students holding their dreams for the future to place around a large mural of Martin Luther King Jr., done by students in 2016.
Some of the featured portraits include late civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis, U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, legendary musician Aretha Franklin and Dayton artist Bing Davis, who has long focused on African American art.
“It’s really important because you see yourself underneath these really important historical figures and like, that could be me one day,” said Sydney Wilson, a junior in NBSA. “Maybe in 20 years they’ll have a poster of me.”
The exhibit is in the front hallway of Northmont High School.
Chrissy Hall, an art teacher at the high school, said between 500 and 600 art students worked on the project. The NBSA advisor, Lorenzo Burke, helped NBSA students select who they wanted to feature. The principal of the school, T.D. Evans, approved the project last summer, NBSA members said.
On Feb. 13 and 15, the students held an open house to celebrate the installation. About 100 people came and walked through, the students said.
This is the first year the NBSA existed, and the second year that art was placed in the hallway for Black History Month. Last year, the student council worked on the project.
NBSA students said they had gotten some pushback from the greater Northmont community on social media after the Black Student Association formed, because some people thought it was exclusive to Black students. The students say that’s not true, and they welcome everyone of all different races.
Kyla Ward, the senior class president and a member of NBSA, said while some students haven’t been open to listening, most have been willing to engage with the project.
Some other minority groups are considering starting their own associations, NBSA students said, and it also helps younger students.
“The underclassmen really do appreciate it, because it helps them,” said Kennedi Robinson, a junior. “Coming into the school, they feel like they belong and kind of know that they have people in the upper class that relate to them and that are looking out for them and want to teach them about history.”