Students put together a body of work that explores African American roots within a range of disciplines, from sports to arts to STEM. The pieces themselves, which are displayed in the students’ respective schools, are interpretations of the history incorporated into their curriculums.
Through a collaboration with the Port Authority and LaGuardia Airport, New York Edge displays students’ creations and artistic process to the community in a special presentation at the airport’s Marine Air Terminal.
“We should celebrate it 365 days a year, because the influence of Africans in the Americas is that important and that integral to how this country was developed, and how it moves on fulfilling its prophecy,” said Assemblyman Jeff Aubry at the opening ceremony last Friday.
“You come from a rich history,” he told the kids. “It belongs to you, you’re a part of it and you should take pride in it.”
The celebration also featured powerful step performances by two all-girl teams from New York Edge. Step dance is a collection of rhythms made with dancers’ hands and feet, while at the same time mixing in chants or calls with the music.
As an art form, step derives its origins from Colonial times, when slaves used movements and sounds to communicate when speaking was prohibited. It also allowed slaves to hold on to aspects of their tribal dance traditions from home.
Each passing generation added new components to the movements and sounds, from black WWII veterans bringing a more military edge to influences from Motown and hip-hop genres.
In the late 1960s, the dance style made its way to college campuses, as historically black fraternities and sororities began to embrace step in their organizations.
For New York Edge CEO Rachael Gazdick, the exhibition is as much about honoring Black History Month as it is about acknowledging the students as the next generation of excellence.
“When we look at black history we are looking at the greats, but in this room today we also have those greats,” said Gazdick. “The exhibit that you see is the students celebrating their elders, celebrating folks from the past and folks in the present. They are our future.”
Kimorah, 9, and Isabella, 8, of Far Rockaway were part of a group that studied Brooklyn-born artist Basquiat. The girls and their classmates learned about the artist’s fearless forays into neo-expressionism and abstraction, many of which used heads and skulls as a focal point.
“Even when people shut him down, he didn’t believe in what they said,” Kimorah explained. “He still kept his head up and did what he felt was comfortable for him.”
For the exhibition, they created a replica of Basquiat’s head out of clay made by mixing flour and water.
“I think about how he was expressing himself in his art,” added Isabella, revealing how she feels when looking at her group’s finished piece. “And even though we know he’s dead, we will still remember him because of the work we did here.”
Both girls said they had a lot of fun with the exhibition, and with all the other activities they experience at New York Edge.
“I like everything,” “I like the fact that we get to hang out with our friends,” Kimorah said. “We don’t get into arguments, because we all share and work together, as our art shows. And we are always confident in what we do, even if we don’t achieve something. Say we lose a game for example, we will still be proud because we tried.”
New York Edge is a nonprofit that seeks to bridge the opportunity gap for more than 40,000 underserved students across 150 schools, preparing them for success through programs designed to improve academic performance, as well as health, wellness and self-confidence.
During the ceremony, New York Edge presented interim general manager of LaGuardia Airport Tony Vero with a piece of art from the exhibition as a show of thanks for showcasing the students’ work.
With a headquarters in Woodside and a large percentage of its members residing in Queens, Gazdick says the borough is where New York Edge’s “heart and soul” is based.
She explained that partnering on this event with LGA seemed like a natural progression, a sentiment that was expressed by airport officials as well.
As a part of the ongoing $8 billion project to redevelop the entire airport, LaGuardia set up a community outreach team in order to promote simultaneous growth of surrounding neighborhoods.
Part of that includes working with local organizations and initiatives to host events like the one on Friday, in addition to educating residents on the employment and small business opportunities that arise from the project.
“We want folks to understand what’s happening here at the airport,” Vero said, “and to understand the opportunities that brings to the community.”