Black History Month Guest Speakers
Black History Month guests inspire students to find their voice
Throughout February students at Port Chester High School have celebrated Black History Month. Displays of art and local history adorned the walls, QR codes provided links to learn more about black historical figures, movies highlighting black history and prominent figures were available for students to watch, fun trivia games were played that included winning prizes, the African American Club Poetry Slam was held, and a special day for vendors to talk to students was hosted as well. Additionally, students heard from guest speakers in a series of assemblies.
Among the guests were Jay Wolfe, PCHS Class of ’89 and Director of College and Career programs at the Huntington YMCA. Mr. Wolfe was there to share some personal history and help students find their voice.
“To come back to a school 30 years later is a little weird,” Mr. Wolf admitted to a group of students gathered in the gymnasium. “If someone from 1959 had come in when I was student, I don’t think they would be relatable.”
Or would they?
Topics such as diversity, equity and equality were all things that were discussed when he was a student, as they are still discussed today and likely would have been in 1959 too.
Black History Month, Mr. Wolfe said, offers an opportunity to take stock of the past, make connections and look ahead.
He was born at United Hospital in Port Chester and grew up on Oak Street. He attended John F. Kennedy Elementary School and was in the first class of sixth graders to attend Port Chester Middle School, the school had originally served 8-9th grade students.
There were two people at PCHS who had a huge impact on him. One was his guidance counselor, who spent some of her personal time helping students apply to college. She suggested Mr. Wolfe consider SUNY Buffalo, and he did, earning a bachelor’s degree there. He would go on to earn a master’s from Columbia University Teaching College too.
Mr. Wolfe was especially interested in helping students focus on Black History Month and to consider what they would be interested in learning about and sharing who they felt were good roles models today for students like them.
Students were invited to stand up and share their thoughts.
One student wanted to learn more about Malcolm X, someone he felt was often left out in favor of more commonly studied figures.
Another student wanted to learn more about black individuals who influenced our culture through music and art and what they had to face as African-Americans.
And still another stidemt was interested in studying Muhammad Ali, his influence and why he is still an important role model today.
Learning more about historical black inventors was another area of interest.
“We are trying to change the culture here at Port Chester High School,” Mr. Wolfe said. “We want to celebrate everyone in our ‘Ramily.’ We want to be inclusive.”
That is why he was encouraging students to stand up and speak. During a second talk with a different group of students, Mr. Wolfe began by asking them to speak.
“I do believe it is your charge to talk about what you want to talk about for Black History Month,” Mr. Wolfe said. “What do you think about Black History Month?”
The first to stand up was social studies teacher Jeffrey Kravitz.
“I think Black History Month is important because where I came from, I have a biracial background, and I never had a black teacher,” Mr. Kravitz said. “It’s about talking about black and brown people. In my class we talk about the people who aren’t talked about, like Emmett Till being our George Floyd.”
One student said she was interested in learning more about black artists and the sacrifices black people made.
Another student wanted to discuss her personal role model, her guidance counselor Vanessa Clay-Williams, and the influence she had.
“She helped me choose what I want to study. She’s my inspiration and she keeps pushing me. She’s almost like a second mother to me,” the student said.
Still another student said they appreciated the effort faculty and staff made to recognize Black History Month and how they have learned from the displays and discussions that have taken place.
Mr. Wolfe reminded students, “you also have a voice.”
Earlier in the day students had heard from Lt. Colonel Richelle N.J. Hill. She is the Director of Manpower and Personnel, Sixteenth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber), Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Another guest speaker was Port Chester’s own Michael Darnell Williams. He grew up in town and attended daycare at the Carver Center. Today he serves as the center’s logistical coordinator.