Black History Month Gala Provides Extraordinary Experience for Students

By History and Social Science Teacher Stephanie Young

Saturday, February 29, after the FoxHound Basketball Big Game, six students joined me at the Virginia Black History Month Association's 20th annual Black History Month Gala. The event was held in the ballroom of the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center Hotel. 
Our students started the evening as ushers, hostesses, and guides for the attendees of the gala. Their efforts were rewarded with certificates acknowledging their volunteer hours and after helping guests find their way to the ballroom and their seats, the students then became attendees themselves.

Attending the gala is a treat. The mistress and master of ceremonies for the evening were Tee Marie Hanible, an author, entrepreneur, and former Marine, and Kenneth Harvey, a former NFL player turned sports reporter, commentator, and author. The three-course meal was accompanied by speeches from significant personages and recognition of academic excellence for students from all over Virginia. This year's honored guests included activist and great-great-great grandniece of Harriet Ross Tubman Ernestine Martin Wyatt, the descendants of Henrietta Lacks, and the family of the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, to name a few. 

The star of the evening, though, was keynote speaker Dr. Yusef Salaam. Dr. Salaam was infamous as one of the Central Park Five, and now his name is synonymous with the words resilience and perseverance. Dr. Salaam spoke candidly about his experience with the criminal justice system at the age of 15, not as one of injustice, but as a testing of his faith in God and a trial of the U.S. criminal justice system. Dr. Salaam's message was for everyone of every faith and every race. He spoke of the seeds of self-doubt and self-hatred that are planted in the youth of America, and the need for communities to rally around their youth and protect them from these negative influences. Dr. Salaam reminded the audience that none of us are here by accident, that there is a purpose for every person living. 

When speaking of his experiences, he said, "It's not what happens to you, it's what happens in you." The idea of taking adversity and learning and growing from it permeated his message for the evening. As he said, "You can come out bitter, or you can come out better. Come out better." Dr. Salaam also shared wisdom that had been handed down to him, quoting renowned poet Dr. Maya Angelou; “You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure." He also shared something Les Brown once told him, "When you fall down (when, not if) try to fall on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up." 

Dr. Yusef Salaam's final message was very much in line with Foxcroft's motto to help every girl explore her unique voice and to develop the skills, confidence, and courage to share it with the world. "Do not leave this world without a trace," he said. "Let the world know you were here."
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.