Black History Month at Providence Catholic

Providence Catholic faculty, staff and students are celebrating Black History Month throughout February within the classrooms. Take a look below to see some of what is taking place to learn more about the importance of this month. At the very bottom are the Facebook posts for easy viewing.

Father Merkelis began Black History Month with a prayer, which you can read on social or by clicking on the image to the right. “During Black History Month I remember the life and example of Dr. Martin Luther King. I take great consolation in his humanity, expressing his fears and douts, as well as his honesty, dedication, and deep love of you. Help us all to stand up for what is right. Give us courage and fortitude to witness to justice, and to love all people, respecting every person as made in your image and likeness. In this way, we bear the cross, as did Dr. King, as did your son.”


In Mrs. Begeske’s math classes, they celebrated famous African American mathematicians by focusing on a different individual each day and posting an article on each on the classroom’s bulletin board.

Mrs. Dau is also featuring famous African American mathematicians in her classes!

Ms. Pascente did this as well for individuals who have made significant advancements to education, technology, astronomy, space travel, etc. – including Benjamin Banneker, Fern Hunt, Mark Dean, Elbert Frank Coz, Katherine Johnson, Valerie Thomas, Lonnie Johnson, John Urschel, Euphemia Lofton Haynes, Annie Easley, and Mae Carol Jemison.

Mrs. Gregory’s class heard prayers regarding Black History Month, and also discussed Katherine Johnson and her contributions to NASA.

In Mrs. Walker’s math classes, students watched the movie Hidden Figures and discussed the role the women played in the development of mathematics.

Mr. Potempa is bringing music to math. “When possible, I am using music from Black artists while my students are working on in class assignments and during some passing periods.  I have found playlists spotlighted on Pandora and IHeart Radio that I am using.  I enjoy the jazz pioneers playlist especially.” Mr. Devine is doing something similar in his computer science classes. “As students enter my room they listen to jazz music that I have playing in the background. I also play jazz music when they are working on projects. During Black History Month, I will use this opportunity to talk about the contributions to jazz from Black musicians. I also talk about the racial discrimination issues that forced jazz artists to move overseas to places like Paris. In particular I discuss the life and play the music of one such artist, Nina Simone.”


Mrs. Potempa’s theology classes researched and discussed Jason Reynolds’ Lesley University Commencement Speech, and the Children’s March.

Father Rich Young’s classes viewed two videos – Slave Songbook: Origin of the Negro Spiritual and Wade in the Water (well-known spiritual used by Harriet Tubman). The seniors discussed how religion and life and intertwined, and how songs emerge from lived experience. “This is also to encourage a sense of empathy and understanding regarding how Spirituals and the Black Experience are expressions of some of the mythic dimension of religion,” says Father Rich. The freshman also viewed these videos and discussed how music is integral to prayer and liturgy as well.

In Mr. Oliver’s theology classes, students viewed a short video (just over two minutes) that was created by the Catholic Mobilizing Network titled “Top 5 Lessons from the 2018 Pastoral Letter Against Racism”.  Here is the link “I will use the video to spark a conversation about each of the 5 lessons (which are nicely and succinctly presented) for the remainder of the period,” he says. In addition to this activity, the class has spent a lot of time in World Religions on empathy, respect, and dialogue so I will reference and connect our previous conversations to Black History Month. As for my Catholic Social Teaching course, Mr. Oliver will once again showing “Remember the Titans,” which definitely connects. Also, later in the 4th Quarter, he talk about discrimination and will use the personal story of how Cardinal George related his experiences of racism as a child using it as the introduction to his own pastoral letter “Dwell In My Love”, which Mr. Oliver will present the key points as it connects the racism present in Chicago to our content.

In Mr. Ickes’s theology classes, he used a prayer of MLK to introduce the unit. The freshman classes watched the movie Crash which addresses many social justice issues including racism and racial prejudice. The classes completed a summative assessment on the movie and discussed the themes of the movie at length.

Ms. Olivetti’s theology classes included several opportunities for students to learn. “We discussed why we celebrate BHM, held 2-3 times a week prayers with the focus of individuals who have made a difference, played songs to reflect upon from Black artists, and I am going to have my classes create a ‘quote & prayers’ ‘bulletin’ for this month that they will share within class on our block days.”

World Languages:

In Profe Devries’ Spanish 2 Honors class, students looked pretty extensively at the Afro-Peruvian influence on Latino Culture, specifically with the cajón drum being used not only in Peru, but Cuba, Spain, etc. The class took a field trip, which you can see photos of on our social media. We will learn about Chincha, the Afro-Peruvian town in Peru as well as Eva Ayllon’s (singer) influence on music. (Photo at left)

In Mrs. O’Keefe’s Spanish classes, upper levels did a gallery walk, reading (in Spanish) about various important people and writing short summaries for eight of them. “For Spanish 2, we will read together about 4 important people and talk about what we read in English about the people’s lives, accomplishments, and more,” she says.


Ms. Klod’s English 3 and English 3H classes worked on literature from the Civil War era which includes slave narratives and poetry from Black authors. The students will have a dialogue about what growth and/or changes have occurred for the African American culture. English 4 started the novel Frankenstein and one of the recurring themes/motifs is centered around injustice and isolation – they will use this theme to make real word connections to the current cultures, including the African American culture.

Throughout the year in Ms. Gura’s English classes, students study many significant literary pieces. In English 1 Honors, English 2, and AP Language and Composition, they read various short stories, poems, and novels written by diverse authors and about the diversity and the dignity of each person. In English 1 Honors, they just finished reading Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (pictured at right); in English 2, they will be reading 12 Angry Men; in AP Language and Composition, they will be reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an autobiography.

Mrs. Stoub’s class is reading 12 Angry Men, and students are participating as jurors (left).

Mrs. Harris featured Black History Month in English, Speech, and within the BLC! In Extension class, students used EdPuzzle to celebrate Black history with poetry. Students will explore the poetry of Langston Hughes and see it come to life with dazzling animations in a dramatic reading of the poem I, Too. They will focus on the magic of poetic techniques like tone, allusion, and extended metaphors. In Speech, the class also started with watching MLK Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech while discussing Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Students had to determine which effective speech elements were used and why they were so powerful. They will continue with more of MLK’s famous speeches and discuss the speech components and the thematic lessons in each: primarily legal, economic, and social equalities. The BLC will also focus on celebrating Black History Month with posters and book stands (photo at right).

Fine Arts:

Ms. Zlogar’s class continues their focus on art from many different cultures! Two lessons that they have done are in the style of Mark Bradford (multi-media map-relief paintings) and Jean Michel Basquait-inspired drawings.  Bradford uses maps of historical or personal significance as a starting point for his abstract multi-media pieces. (A student-created artwork inspired by Bradford is featured to the left.) Within the four year art curriculum, students study a variety of artists from a wide range of cultures, time periods and genres. Some of the other black artists studied include Kara Walker, Jean Michel Basquait, Bisa Butler, Charles Gaines, Theaster Gates, and Nick Cave. She has also shown a video to the Studio class which featured Bisa Butler.  Students watch the video in class then write a brief summary of what processes, materials and ideas the artist use or have behind their work.  The students also rate the artist and defend their rating with a 2 sentence rationale. You can view the video here: Artist Bisa Butler on creating new narratives through “portrait quilts” – Bing video.

Dr. Eckert’s choir students studied a great deal of important music. They sang “Tumekuja Kuimba (too-may-koo-jah  koo-eem-bah)” for Mass.  It is a praise song written by a Caucasian woman, Lynn Zettlemoyer, while teaching at an International Christian school in Kenya. The song is in Swahili and English. Honors Choir has begun working on “Now’s the Time” by Charlie “Bird” Parker. The American Jazz Idiom has its roots in the African culture from freed people after the Civil War. “I chose Parker because he changed the jazz idiom and created an entirely new genre called ‘Be Bop’,” she says. In addition, all choirs will be learning “It’s All Right” written by Curtis Mayfield and arranged by Jon Batiste for the movie, Soul. Mayfield, born in the Chicago projects, was a founding member of The Impressions and a powerful musical force during the Civil Rights Movement. Batiste is an Academy Award winning singer, songwriter, performer, and television personality (leading the band on the Stephen Colbert show for many years). If you saw the movie, Soul, you know the main character is an African American music teacher who dies in an accident on his way to a gig. “I loved this movie not only for the music, but for how it, like many movies, is about a human being struggling with what many humans struggle as they try to reach different levels of their career. The main character learns to find grace with himself,” she says. Finally, the choir will be working on “Think” best recorded by Aretha Franklin – a great civil rights tune.

Social Sciences:

Mr. Ditzler’s class talked about African American contributions to early American history and abolition. They spent time discussing the fighting 54th regiment of the late Civil war and also covered the failure of Reconstruction, and will be continuing to cover the topic as it develops throughout the course. By the end of the month they will be taking the actual literacy tests that were implemented in the past and the Jim Crow Era. Similarly, the students study the trials undergone by Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and other immigrant groups that make up our country “I also have several discussions with my classes about how interpretations of the Constitution and debates over rights, liberties, and citizenship has affected America (politics and society).”

In Mr. Freeman’s AP History class, Afro-American history is discussed throughout the year. Some examples include the development of slavery in the United States and the gradual resistance to the intuition; Civil War and the Failure of Reconstruction such as the 13/14/15th Amendments, sharecropping, Plessy v. Ferguson, etc.; Civil Rights Movement and the methods use to achieve their rights; Great Migration and role during WW1 and WW2; Harlem Renaissance; and looking at various historical figures such as MLK/Malcolm X/ Ida B. Wells/Frederick Douglass/W.E.B. DuBois/Booker T. Washington and Billie Holiday amongst others. For American Government, students have a unit devoted to Civil Rights in February/into May, discussing the movement and methods used to promote change and legislation used to achieve that change. In addition, discussions of Afro-Americans can arise depending on current events. For example, discussing the Ketanji Brown Jackson as the newest member of the Supreme Court as the first Afro-American women.

In Mr. Lenahan’s AP US History class, students discussed the impact of the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age and talk about the impact that African American Influencers had on the time period all the way to today. In addition, they talked about the continuity and change of the African American experience from slavery to Reconstruction to the 1920s to the Civil Rights Movement to today and discuss the impact of the key individuals, including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington. They also discuss the history of slavery, the rise of Abolitionism, the Civil War 13th,14th, and 15th Amendments and Reconstruction. In AP Government, the class discussed and analyzed Martin Luther King JR Letter From a Birmingham Jail; discussed important Civil Rights legislation (Civil Rights Act/Voting Rights Act); and talk about current events and issues concerning Civil Rights as well as they happen.

In Mr. Desherow’s classes, students looked at the at the dsl richmond website for mapping inequality in New Deal America. “it is an interactive map that allows us to look at how different neighborhoods were graded and ultimately segregated in cities across the country including right here with data for Chicago and Joliet,” he says. They will be tying this to conversations in Macroeconomics class about Redlining and how banks would refuse to give loans to people living in these areas and how we can see those effects even today in the makeup and condition of those communities. “In US history, we will be using the same resource but trace the history of this issue back to reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era.” Link:


In Coach Coglianese’s PE classes, students had to choose an African American athlete and research his or her story within their sport and society with a focus on what struggles they had to endure during their life or contributions they made to mankind, their sport or their communities.  This athlete can be from any sport: tennis, hockey, baseball, football, NASCAR, etc.

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