Flamekeepers, an organization run by Milpitas resident Demetress Morris, hosted a spirited March Awareness event at Weller Elementary School, centered around diversity and Black History. The festivities went down on Tuesday, March 26.

Students were deeply engaged by the program, which featured drumming, dancing, and even history lessons, along with a few speakers. Several entertainers from Akoma Arts infused the multi-use room with lively music and energy.

The first event of its kind, the presentation shed light on the African-American experience, from its early beginnings in Africa all the way up to present time. A slideshow — complete with inspiring music wafting from the speakers — detailed prominent African-American figures and showed how their impact has resonated around the entire world, Milpitas included.

“The idea at first was to host a Black History Month celebration, but the time had passed, so Flamekeepers thought we could do something more reflective that brought things full circle, and that was a bit more inclusive, since the entire school would be present. This is normally not the case. So it was a grand opportunity to speak to diversity,” shared Morris.

Councilmember Bob Nuñez, along with Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) board members Daniel Bobay and Kelly Yip-Chuan, were in attendance.

 

Weller Principal Alicia Padilla with School Board Member Daniel Bobay.

 

“Milpitas is one of the best little towns in the world, because of you guys. You guys come from everywhere,” said Bobay, speaking to the audience. He told the students about how he had had his DNA analyzed, and discovered that his family originated in East Africa. Gasps of awe came from the audience, as Bobay spoke of how his family migrated from East Africa to Europe, settling in France in the 1700s, and eventually making their way to Indiana. He used this personal example to show the students just how diverse the world truly is.

A commendation from the City of Milpitas was presented to Weller Principal Alicia Padilla, for promoting community awareness and diversity.

Yip-Chuan got up to speak about how when she was 7, and arriving in the United States for the first time, she didn’t speak a word of English. Her family had moved out to Modesto, California, from Vietnam. She spoke of how tough it was to make the transition to a new school, where just about nobody looked like her. Her dark features stood out in the midst of all of the other students’ fair features. Her family also struggled to make ends meet. Yip-Chuan recalled being teased, and how difficult it was to adjust. Her message was one of embracing who you truly are in order to push ahead in life:

“How many of you guys speak a second language?” Yip-Chuan asked the students, the majority of whom raised their hands. Surveying the room, Yip-Chuan nodded. “You should be loud and proud about that. That is going to give you an advantage in life as you get older.”

Parwander Johal, the Director of Student Instructional Services for MUSD, also got up to speak. “I am also an immigrant. And I know if it wasn’t for the sacrifices that African-Americans have made in the past for decades, for hundreds of years, that I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I’ve had…” Johal said to the kids.

 

 

In a vibrant touch, every student in the room had been given colorful wristbands with the word “Flamekeepers” printed on them.

“You have those wristbands to remind you of what you need to do in the community,” said Morris. “That you’re keepers of the flame, that you pass the torch and make sure that our community has unity.”

Akoma Entertainment closed out the event by inviting everyone to dance, as they played the drums and their dancers graced the stage.

The room radiated with electricity as the students got up on their feet and started to move.

 

 

 

Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works with nonprofit organizations to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also an author; her first book will be published by Llewellyn Worldwide in mid-2019. Her YouTube channel, which features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment, has amassed thousands of subscribers. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s founder.

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