In this Q&A, Angel Haythe (TMA ’15) shares why Black History Month at TMA is an empowering time for students to delve deeper into African-American culture and heritage. Haythe performed Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and “Mississippi Goddam” at TMA’s 5th Annual Celebrating Our Roots. The powerful songs and the explosive lyrics were a heartfelt response to reoccurring violent events during the Civil Rights Movement that claimed the innocent lives of African-Americans. Today, Haythe is studying Business and Music at Trinity Washington University and is inspired by events like Celebrating Our Roots, which allow her to use her gifted voice to “help spread positivity and inspiration.”
TMA: Why are events like Celebrating Our Roots important?
Celebrating Our Roots teaches students and strengthens their knowledge about the African-American culture. It is more than a production. It is an important event where students can showcase their heritage and background through their talents. For me, it’s music and singing. But other students draw or recite poetry, dance, or even act to show the community and audience African-American worth and power.
TMA: Tell us how you use your gifted voice to make a difference.
I use my voice to help spread positivity and inspiration. When I sing, I want people to feel what I feel and understand what I understand. A part of that is singing songs that makes a difference in people lives – songs that help to empower people with lyrics that speak to their soul.
TMA: What songs did you sing at Celebrating Our Roots and how did the lyrics reinforce Black History Month?
“Strange Fruit” and “Mississippi Goddam.” They’re both by Nina Simone. The lyrics from both songs are very powerful. “Strange Fruit” represented lynching and the expression and feeling of this violent act of hatred imposed on Black people. Not only were they lynched, but they were burned. In the song, Nina Simone’s emotions of sadness, anger, bitterness came through the lyrics. This was a huge breaking point in Black History because the song rallied up Blacks and encouraged them to push for equality and freedom. “Mississippi Goddam” inspired people to protest for equality and freedom. In this song, Nina Simone shows a lot of anger toward America – the same America that was supposed to be for fairness and pursuit of happiness. Yet, it didn’t fulfill that for Black Americans. We are still in a time were equality isn’t equality and that’s why this song — and its impact on the Civil Rights Movement and African-American equality — was so relevant to sing at Celebrating Our Roots.
TMA: What do you remember about Black History Month when you were a student at TMA? What are some of the things you learned in class that still impact you today?
Black History Month as a student at TMA was very empowering and uplifting. We studied important people who are a part of the black history movement who are often overlooked. The lessons go beyond discussions about Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, whose contribution to the Civil Rights Movement are definitely important. But when we watched detailed documentaries of other leaders of the civil rights, much more came to the surface than I had previously been aware of. When I studied African-American music artists and the musicians who played an important part of the Civil Rights Movement and equality and freedom, my passion for music grew even more deeply.
TMA: At the 2015 graduation, you sang “Conqueror” from Empire. Why would you say that was a fitting song to sing at graduation?
“Conqueror” was a very empowering song for the Class of 2015. As the graduating class, we were stepping into a new era and moving on to further higher education. The song gave us the feeling that we conquered our fears; we conquered struggles and trials that we went through when trying to graduate from high school. We won in the end. Now that we accomplished and achieved graduating from high school, we can go further in life and be able to conquer anything throughout our lives. Our personal, physical, or mental issues or anything we go through cannot limit us.
TMA: Can you tell us how useful the College Counseling Department is and how TMA’s college culture ensured that you had a smooth transition after high school?
The college counseling department was very useful in transitioning to college from high school. When I was a senior, I was kind of afraid and scared to pursue higher education after high school because I heard so many stories of college being hard and difficult. A lot of people I knew were dropping out. But the College Counseling Department helps to prepare students for college. I had many class periods where alumni from different colleges would visit and talk about their college experiences, how different it was from high school, and even how TMA academically prepared them for college-level work. Now that I’m in college, I can agree with their testimonies. My GPA is a 3.8 so all the help and preparation that the College Counseling Department gave to me is really paying off.
TMA: What advice would you have for freshman year Angel Haythe?
Work hard. Never slack. Build a network.