NORCROSS — Summerour Middle School in Norcross held its fifth annual African-American Heritage Program on Thursday with the theme Unbreakable Spirit — A Journey of a People.
The evening celebration started with a banquet of soul food favorites such as fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and more, and then student performers recited poetry and historical facts, danced and gave a black history tribute.
Then the celebration took a serious tone when guest speaker Wheeler Parker Jr. reminded everyone that if you don’t know your history, you’re destined to relive it.
“History is sometimes not pretty,” he said.
During his presentation, Parker, who lives in Illinois and speaks about civil rights, shared a video that recapped his horrifying experience in Mississippi amid racial turmoil and tension.
In 1955, Emmett Till went to Mississippi to visit family. During that visit, Parker and his cousin, Till, who were teenagers, along with another family member Simeon Wright, went to a grocery store in Money, Miss., where Till whistled at the wife of the store owner, who was white. Days later Till was abducted from his great-uncle’s house by two white men, and days later, he was found dead after a torturous murder.
The two accused of the crime, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, were found not guilty by an all-white jury. But since then, new evidence in the case has been uncovered.
Parker said he speaks of the tragedy not to stir up animosity, ill-will or hate, but so that others know history.
Dorothy Parker-Jarrett, principal at Summerour Middle School and a relative of Parker, said the school has always been an environment that is community- and family-oriented and is focused on ways to bring the community together.
But she said the students are the focus of the program.
“I am just really so excited about the participation I have seen here throughout the week as the school has been preparing for the program,” Parker-Jarrett said. “I’m so proud of these kids.”
Claude Jean-Pois, parent of sixth grader, Emma Jean-Pois, attended the celebration with his daughter in a traditional African gown from the Republic of Mali. He called the event priceless because it is a school of great diversity.
“Several countries and cultures are represented here,” Jean-Pois said. “This school particularly takes time to celebrate each culture. This is good because the kids get at least one shot of getting concentrated information about African heritage and African-American heritage.”
The school also holds a Hispanic celebration in the fall and an international celebration in spring.