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Celebrating Black History Month in Style

February 22, 2024—This year’s annual assembly in honor of Black History Month celebrated Black style and beauty. Winsor’s affinity group for Black students, SISTERS, hosted the morning event, which brought together faculty, staff, and students in the David E. and Stacey L. Goel Theater. 

SISTERS is a space to affirm Black students’ sense of racial identity while encouraging participants to be full, connected participants in the larger community. Weekly affinity group meetings provide opportunities for leadership, mentorship, and community building while leading an all-school assembly allows students to practice those skills on a larger scale.

After an a capella performance of the Black national anthem “Lift Every Voice” by Amanie Yusef ’25, students took turns at the podium introducing topics such as Black hair, fashion, music, and art. Reading from prepared remarks and sharing a slide deck, students educated the audience on the history of braids, which date back to 3,000 B.C. Originally used to identify a person’s marital status, age, power, or wealth, braids were later used to secret seeds and gold during the transatlantic slave trade and map the underground railroad. “Cornrows, box braids, and locs are examples of protective styling, which reduce breakage,” students shared as they explored the modern day interpretation of these ancient styles. They also highlighted the popularization of edges—carefully styling the baby hairs at the edge of the hairline—by French dancer and singer Josephine Baker in the 1920s, which is still popular today with celebrities and influencers on TikTok. 

Discussing fashion, students were able to draw a through line between ancient and modern styles. For example, waist beads that historically signal femininity, fertility, sensuality, and spiritual well-being became a red carpet staple of Y2K artists such as girl group Destiny’s Child. With a red carpet of their own, students put on a fashion show narrated by Zora Chirunga ’26 that featured styles ranging from Y2K Juicy Couture and baggy jeans to Honduran town wear and bedtime chic with sleep bonnets. There were also Nigerian ankaras, African house robes (the kaftans are a symbol of hospitality), and Sudanese thobes. 

Special guest speaker theo tyson, who lowercases their name, encouraged students to tease out the things that bring them the most joy. With a resume that spans finance, education, automotive, spirits, film and television, photography, hospitality, entertainment, and beauty and fragrance, tyson didn’t know she would become a museum curator. Now the Penny Vinik Curator of Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she left a 20-year career at Bloomingdales and running her own production company to pursue something brand new. Leveraging skills and experiences she already had meant she wasn’t starting from scratch. tyson invited everyone to visit the MFA to see upcoming exhibits she is co-curating from exploring the intersection of jewelry and fashion as a method of communication to a conversation of the sea that looks at counternarratives of the transatlantic slave trade.

Amanie Yusef ’25 choreographed a dance that got both Upper and Lower School students in SISTERS dancing on stage. To carry Black History Month out of assembly and into daily life, students curated a Spotify playlist called “Black History Through the Years,” which you can listen to here. Since SISTERS’ presentation touched on the Black influence of jazz and R&B, the playlist is a wide-ranging compilation of historical and popular favorites.

As a memento of the powerful Black figures highlighted in assembly, SISTERS arranged for every member of the community to receive a special postcard from the series “Brave. Black. First.” Published in collaboration with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, the postcards celebrate fearless, bold, African American women whose contributions continue to pave the way for future generations. These empowering postcards celebrate artists, athletes, activists, politicians, and writers who championed civil rights in their communities. Each card features a portrait on the front and, on the back, an inspiring quote, short biographical information, and space for writing a message. “You may decide to keep your postcard and place it somewhere special, or mail it to a friend or family member to pass along the knowledge you gained from today's assembly,” shared SISTERS co-heads Natalie Cooper ’24 and Gwen Castro ’24 in an email to the school.  

Thank you to club advisors Mr. Braxton and Ms. Simpson for all of their support in making this assembly possible!
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