If you are looking for woke young people in St. Louis, you will find them at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy, which recently presented a student-run Black History Month program aptly titled – “Stay Woke.”
This student-run program featured an homage to the Black Panther party, including students marching down the aisles of the auditorium with fists raised; dance numbers to music by artists from Scott Joplin to Beyonce; a step routine, with an explanation of stepping’s roots in African culture and HBCU heritage; original spoken word pieces and poetry by Countee Cullen; Negro spirituals; Bob Marley’s “Redemption” Song on acoustic guitar, conga, and violin; “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with a singer accompanied by violin; and Ms Shelley.
Let me tell you about Ms Shelley. A long-time sub at the school, Ms Shelley served as the program’s MC, but when she sang “And I am Telling You” from Dreamgirls, she absolutely brought the house down. Ms Shelley gave Jennifer Hudson a run for her money (but let’s be honest, no one can touch Jennifer Holliday’s Tony award-winning performance). Every single student in the auditorium stood up and cheered for the entire song. And Ms Shelley earned the adulation.
My husband and I felt sorry for the act that had to follow. Who wants to come behind such a powerful performance?
TB, Mr. Confidence himself, had no qualms following that act. With TB on the violin, a teacher on the acoustic guitar and vocals, and another teacher on the conga, Bob Marley’s classic “Redemption Song” took on a different vibe. Adding violin to the piece gave it a haunting air that highlighted Marley’s call for mental emancipation. The simplicity and rawness of “Redemption Song” followed the powerful emotion of Ms Shelley’s performance nicely.
Between “Redemption Song” and the program’s finale, a duet of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the senior who led the Black History Month program gave what the printed program dubbed a “Message of Hope.”
Her message was one of hope, a hope for her fellow students to become active in their own liberation. She spoke truth to power and pulled no punches as she vilified American systems that keep Black people in bondage, most notably the school to prison pipeline and policies that keep Black people enslaved. She urged her young listeners to vote and to fight for their rights, for what is right, for justice, for power, and for freedom.
She encouraged them, in other words, to stay woke. And they embraced her message.