By Lyn Dobrin
The second day of Westbury Arts’ Black History Month Fifth Anniversary Weekend Jubilee celebration was a dynamic performance program held in the Westbury High School auditorium to allow for a large audience and many performers.
The Uniondale High School Show Choir opened the show with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” originally written in 1900 as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and later set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson. Known as the Black National Anthem, it is a stirring song, and South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn has filed a bill in Congress that would make it the U.S. National Hymn.
The choir has received more than 1.3 million Tik Tok views and is the first minority choir to ever win a national show choir competition — the Grand Champion award at the Fame Show Choir Nationals Championship Series in Chicago.
Lynette Carr-Hicks, director of the choir, proudly told the audience that she was born and raised in Westbury and a graduate of Westbury High School. She started the Westbury High School show choir in 2000, moving on to Uniondale in 2007.
On praising the choir, Westbury’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tahira DuPree Chase stated that the Uniondale Show Choir was a prime example of why we need the arts. “One way to get to see the heart of a child is through the arts; arts allow children to show who they are.” She commended Pat Jenkins Lewis, founder of Westbury Arts’ Black History Month Program, for her vision.
Dance was also on the program. The audience got a taste of Harlem’s Lindy Hop culture through history: rare video, mini dance lessons, and performances with The Harlem Swing Dance Society. Two couples from the Harlem Swing Dance Society demonstrated swing dance, a variety of social dances that include the lindy hop and jitterbug, born in the African American communities in Harlem, New York City, developed with the swing style of jazz in the 1920-40s. Later, members of the audience were invited to join the dancers as they jitterbugged in the front of the auditorium. Barbara Jones, the group’s leader, said, “Our aim is to present and propagate Harlem’s famed dance of the Lindy Hop in various ways to have audiences feel the excitement and learn something as well.”
The event was emceed by Alicia Evans, who paid homage to Joysetta Pearse, a powerful force whom the Long Island Press called “an icon of the history of the Black community on Long Island” in her obituary in June of 2021. The African American Museum of Nassau was renamed “The Joysetta and Julius Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County” in honor of the late Pearse and her husband Julius. Evans recalled how amazed Pearse was; “they put my name on a building,” she had said. The tribute to Pearse included a poem written and read by Westbury college student Deirdre Amukowa.
The Westbury High School Performance Program was held in conjunction with Westbury Arts’ Black History Month Art Exhibition, Creative Visions of Community and Cultural Reflections: Connecting the Community Through the Arts. The gallery will be open Fridays 2 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. for viewings of this exhibit. The exhibit runs through Feb. 26.
The Black History Month Celebration is the first in the series Be the Color of This World, which include a Women’s History Month Art Exhibition opening March 4, an Asian American Pacific Island Heritage exhibit opening May 6, and LGBTQ+ Pride Slam celebrations on June 17 and 18.
These events are made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and is administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc, and donation from The Islamic Center of Long Island.
For more scene & seen event photos visit longislandpress.com/category/scene-seen.
Sign up for Long Island Press’ email newsletters here. Sign up for home delivery of Long Island Press here. Sign up for discounts by becoming a Long Island Press community partner here.