On a balmy February morning – a welcome respite from winter’s bitter cold – a procession of students and teachers dressed in black and white, and adorned in colorful headdresses, sequins masks, and hand-designed parasols marched down the Avenue. The sounds of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” performed by a student brass band, wafted down the street. Neighbors emerged from their houses, curious about the music, laughter, and dancing, and joined the processional as it meandered around the corner and into the historic school building, where the families of the performers waited anxiously for the main event. The look and the sound of the event recalled scenes from New Orleans’ iconic Mardi Gras celebrations – but looks can be deceiving.
The processional – also called a second line – wound down Martin Luther King Jr. Ave through the historic Anacostia neighborhood and ended at TMA’s athletics center. It was the first element of TMA’s annual Black History Month program, Celebrating Our Roots. The program, now in its fourth year, provides an avenue for students and the greater community to celebrate African and African-American culture and heritage through visual and performing art. This year, TMA celebrated all things New Orleans, taking students, teachers, and families on an artistic and musical journey that explored the origins of the rich history and cultural influences of the Big Easy.
Preparation for Celebrating Our Roots spanned over nine weeks: in Art class, students created representations of New Orleans style costumes worn by the Mardi Gras Indians – the traditional participants of the second line parades – complete with elaborate headdresses and masks. Students also designed and created intricate parasols, another prominently element of a traditional second line. Meanwhile students in Music Appreciation class learned and performed music – focusing on brass instruments – frequently found in a second line. Students also explored Zydeco music, a combination of French and African styles created in the cultural melting pot of New Orleans.
As in past years, the TMA community welcomed guest performers to Celebrating Our Roots. This year, the event also featured the talents of the DuPont Brass Band, the Star Makers Academy of Dance, the Savoy Stilt Walkers from neighboring Savoy Elementary School, and Janice the Griot – a storyteller and oral historian tracing its roots back to a West African tradition.