On February 3, 2022, we celebrated Black History Month with a school-wide assembly featuring joyful music and a dynamic guest speaker.
Our Honors Choir performed a Freedom Medley of songs and spirituals, under the direction of renowned guest conductor LaFredrick Coaxner.
A graduate of The Julliard School, Mr. Coaxner has traveled nationally and internationally performing with the New Jersey State Opera, The Harlem Jubilee Singers, and The Cotton Club Review. He is a member of Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church where he serves as choir director for the Inspirational Voices of Abyssinian. Our Honors Choir was fortunate to be able to rehearse with Mr. Coaxner several times before this performance. Honors Choir director, Wendy Bryn Harmer, a soprano with the Metropolitan Opera, facilitated the rehearsals and joined in the performance.
Guest soloist was Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson. Ms. Higginson has graced stages across the United States, Europe and Japan, thrilling audiences worldwide with her powerhouse, multi-octave voice. She is an enthusiastic arts activist. Among her numerous community projects is her leadership of the Mama Foundation for the Arts and she co-founded the acclaimed Gospel for Teens music arts education program.
We also welcomed singer Carl Arnes Ellis III and accompanist Elder Damon Mack.
The Freedom Medley included Steal Away to Jesus, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round, and Down By the Riverside. As the choir sang His Truth Still Marches On, Mr. Ellis proclaimed the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “I Have A Dream Speech.” It was a stirring highlight of the program.
The featured guest speaker was the Honorable Tanya R. Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department. Judge Kennedy’s presentation was entitled “Young, Gifted, and Black” by Nina Simone - singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist. Judge Kennedy pointed out that “young” can also refer to vigor, endurance and strength. She highlighted 10 Black gifted and talented women who showed endurance and strength while making their mark on society, despite society and racial barriers. They each showed enormous perseverance and courage. Judge Kennedy encouraged all students to, “Go forth! Persevere. Make your own start. That’s an order from the court,” she said with a smile. The student body responded with a standing ovation.
Later in the day, Judge Kennedy spoke to our Constitutional Law class, and was interviewed by editors from our school newspaper, Unison. We are grateful to Judge Kennedy for generously sharing her time with us.
TV coverage of our event included this reporting by CBS 2 News.
Catholic New York featured a photo spread HERE.
We invite you to enjoy the YouTube clips below, and to download the program Here.
- Welcome by Dr. Melnyk; Lift Every Voice and Sing (5 min) https://youtu.be/Om55bZPZ-r4
- Presentation by The Honorable Tanya R. Kennedy (22 min) https://youtu.be/D8Z41Js4SsA
- Introduction by Ms. Chestnut; Freedom Medley performed by the Honors Choir, and Closing Remarks (22 min) https://youtu.be/q8mFx9_yd9s
- Excerpt of the Freedom Medley (13 min) https://youtu.be/tCtAKNVyMrI
Thank you to Chris Pope of Christopher Pope Photography for the photos in this report.