Barrett Elementary's Interactive Living Museum Celebrating Black History

Black History Month has been an integral part of the educational experience at Barrett Elementary for years. Ten years ago, though, a conversation began on how to revise the experience for students based on the diversity and strengths of the Steel Valley community. The key question: "How do we promote and celebrate their history, heritage and culture?"

The answer was to give the students their own voice, to allow them to use their voices and the voices of their ancestors to tell their stories. A pair of quotes from Motown founder Berry Gordy helped influence the approach. 

“Every day I watched how a bare metal frame, rolling down the line would come off the other end, a spanking brand new car. What a great idea! Maybe, I could do the same thing with my music. Create a place where a kid off the street could walk in one door, an unknown, go through a process, and come out another door, a star.” - This is how we envisioned our students: We saw that when the students entered our school district as Kindergarteners, they are like a bare metal frame and it is our responsibility to transform them as they progress through the grades.  We are confident that our school can create stars by the time they walk across the field on their graduation day.

“I've discovered that Motown and Broadway have a lot in common - a family of wonderfully talented, passionate, hardworking young people, fiercely competitive but also full of love and appreciation for the work, for each other and for the people in the audience.” - This is also how we envisioned our school community. Like Motown and like Broadway, Steel Valley is also a family. But we also are full of love of appreciation for the work, for each other and for the audience. 

With those concepts in mind, the Black History Month experience changed. Today, it includes an Interactive Living Museum, with students, alumni and community members taking part to help bring important moments and figures in history to life. In the words of organizer Jonette Bost, "The Black History Month Interactive Museum is hands-on. It allows for collaboration. It allows for creativity. It provides them with an experience that they might not have otherwise. It is the experience that will leave a lasting impression, but it will also teach them how resilient individuals who come from humble beginnings can be. What a powerful learning experience and something that should be celebrated."


"The Greatest Wealth Is Health"

A banner promoting the 2022 Black History Month Interactive Living Museum

Steel Valley’s Barrett Elementary students had an interactive experience with Black history on Thursday, February 24 as they joined the community in touring the Black History Month Interactive Living Museum.

Kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade and fourth grade students toured each exhibit, where they learned about Martin Luther King Jr., African American Olympic athletes, Djembe drums, African Jewelry, delicious recipes, the history and legacy of Freedom House, African Masks, African American inventors, and much more.

As the students toured the exhibits, they came across wax figures stationed throughout the building. With a press of a hand on the wall, these figures started to speak and share their contributions to Black history and American culture.

Steel Valley High School students and alumni portrayed the figures. This year's cast featured Kayden Jefferson-Machiote (singer Donna Summer), Chamarra Ford (singer Aaliyah), Vinton Kellar (civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.), Nakiah Marshman (singer Lauryn Hill), Alijah Richardson-Beck (television host Oprah Winfrey), Wendoll Slade (singer Juice Wrld), Paul Townsend (musician Bob Marley), Zoey Townsend (civil rights activist Ruby Bridges), Nyjair Wilkerson (singer Michael Jackson), Shamirah Woods (abolitionist Harriet Tubman), Kamiyah McLemore (singer Beyonce), Tarai Jones (singer Janet Jackson), Lorraine West (singer Ella Fitzgerald), Danielle Chaffin (former First Lady Michelle Obama), and Kwamaine Cas (entertainer Montell Jordan). Students Shalawn Parker and Shatrya Parker portrayed Black Panther and Shuri from the Avengers as part of a photo booth.

The afternoon wrapped with a handful of musical performances, including three songs by Steel Valley students Wendoll Slade, Kayden Jefferson-Machicote and Nyjair Wilkerson. Wilkerson's performance of "Stand Up" featured the entire cast of wax figures conducting choreography put together by student Chamarra Ford.

Contributors to this year's experience included storyteller Cynthia Battle, Duquesne University's Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh, numerous Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Homestead Mayor John Burwell, Leslie McPherson of Muscles by McPherson, MUSA, UPMC, Rachel Sew and WQED, and the University of Pittsburgh's 3Rs program. Community displays spotlighted health and wellness resources from Mon Yough (MYCS), Steel Valley Wellness Group, Turtle Creek Valley Community Services, UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and RESOLVE crisis center. 

Photos from the 2022 Museum

Click on the first photo to view larger and to click through the entire gallery.

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust performers present Black History month program to Barrett Elementary students

Visitors from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust stopped by Barrett Elementary in the Steel Valley School District on Monday, February 7 for a special assembly celebrating Black History Month. The group of performers relayed an important message about collaboration and working together and how that can be achieved when you help, share, listen and have courage. 

The performers put on an interactive program that incorporated drums, storytelling, colorful fabrics, singing, dancing, and even got to see some capoeira, which is a African-Brazilian form of martial arts that blends dance, acrobatics and music. The students had a chance to participate throughout the program and learned a little something new about different cultures.


2019 - "Honoring The Past, Inspiring The Future"

Each grade level focused on a different area. Kindergarten celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr; first graders focused on sports and entertainment; second graders highlighted game changers; third graders explored soul food and recipies; and fourth graders delved into the Underground Railroad. The students created artifacts for the displays while alumni portrayed wax figures like Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Obama, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill, Etta James and Michael Jackson while providing entertainment.

Check out the full program for the 2019 experience.

2020 - "Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers"

Kindergarten celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr; first graders focused on sports and entertainment; second graders highlighted African culture; third graders explored soul food and recipies; and fourth graders delved into the Underground Railroad. Alumni again portrayed wax figures like Muhammad Ali, Allyson Felix, Toni Harris, Lisa Leslie, Wilma Rudolph, Michelle Obama, Sojourner Truth, Madam C.J. Walker, Irene Cara, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Montell Jordan, Alicia Keys, Norm Lewis, Bob Marley, Janelle Monae and Pittsburgh's own August Wilson while providing entertainment.

The program expanded to include exhibits celebrating African American military service, including the Buffalo Soldiers and Tuskegee Airmen. There was also information on Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as a stronger connection with local community groups. The Harmony Club of Homestead, the Josh Gibson Foundation, WAMO and others all participated.

Check out the full program for the 2020 experience.

2021 - "The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity"

COVID-19 closed the museum, but the celebration of Black history continued on. The Special Events Committee organized a special walking tour with the help of The Waterfront, sign creators and local businesses. Behind a collection of books and yard signs, the group sparked important conversations to share not just the love of reading but to engage the community in important topics.

Billboard promoting the 2021 virtual version of interactive museum

Billboard advertising 2021 virtual version of interactive museum