Black Excellence Club leaders defend Black History Month hallway music after learning of concern about appropriateness

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In light of Black History Month this February, music honoring Black culture replaced the usual classical music that routinely cues the change of bands. Seniors Noah Roberts and Jaedyn Clarke, President and Vice President of the THHS Black Excellence Club respectively, were put in charge of curating a playlist, which included songs from artists such as Beyoncé, Lizzo,  Kendrick Lamar, Jazmine Sullivan, and Frank Ocean. However, in a meeting with administration and guidance in early February, Noah and Jaedyn were informed a teacher had expressed concern over the appropriateness of one of the songs in the playlist, which led them to share their thoughts with The Classic on what music they wanted to share to celebrate Black History Month.

Noah said, “I was brought in by administration and some counselors to speak about a teacher that had sent an email to administration saying that the music was inappropriate.” In the meeting, Jaedyn and Noah said they received support from guidance counselors Rondell McClary (who is also a club advisor) and Jessica Graf, social worker and club advisor Alison Harris-Chauvet, and assistant principals Veronica York and Ellen Fee and were reassured that the music would continue to play.

After the meeting, Noah and Jaedyn approached The Classic to reflect on their musical selections for Black History Month. In response to suggestions that songs other than the contemporary ones chosen would be more appropriate, Noah said, “We feel that oftentimes, Blackness is being defined by whiteness, and that is something I want to break free of during Black History Month, which is why I didn’t focus on oppression songs, Negro spirituals, and jazz.”

Jaedyn said, “The only time that Black music is considered acceptable is when it is palatable enough for the white ear, and I feel like that’s completely unacceptable, especially during the time of Black History Month. At the end of the day, we are the future of Blackness.”

The Classic spoke to a teacher who said he had concerns about the playlist. History teacher Franco Scardino said that he sent an email to Principal Brian Condon on February 9. The Classic cannot confirm whether this email was the email discussed at the meeting. Mr. Condon and Ms. Fee only confirmed they received an email about the music without sharing the author. Though Jaedyn and Noah said they were told the identity of the teacher, they did not share it with The Classic.  THHS UFT Chapter Leader Kevin McDonaugh said he was unaware of any teacher complaints about the hallway music.

In the email, which he provided to The Classic, Mr. Scardino listed words in the lyrics from Jazmine Sullivan’s “Pick Up Your Feelings” (f***, b***, Hennessy), and wrote “I hope Ms. York and Ms. Fee find more appropriate ways to celebrate the rich culture and contributions of Black Americans to music.”

In an interview with The Classic, Mr. Scardino said, “I felt it was my responsibility to inform the principal that I have concerns about this language.”

Mr. Condon said, “I don’t hear the passing music often, so I asked my assistant principals who were working with that whether that was the case [that profane lyrics were being broadcast], and I was told that that was not the case…I don’t ever want profane lyrics sent over a loudspeaker.”

Ms. Fee said that Mr. Condon asked her to look into a teacher complaint. She said she told him the Spotify playlist had been “scrubbed clean” through Spotify’s non-explicit function. She added that she and other adults had reviewed the songs as well. 

“I don’t believe there are inappropriate songs on the list. Many of them are female empowerment songs and other songs that are culture-defining and appropriate,” Ms. Fee said.

Ms. York declined to comment on the meeting.

Members of the guidance team present at the meeting spoke to The Classic about their support for the music.

Mr. McClary said, “I love the music. I think it represents a part of African American culture. I think it educates us as a community about this particular rap music, hip hop, and I just love it. I think the president of Black Excellence Club did a great job of putting this together and I wish he could do a lot more.”

Ms. Harris said, “I’m just glad that the students feel autonomy enough to highlight their music, how they want to celebrate Black History Month, and showcase different artistry.”

Ms. Graf said, “I think it’s important for students to have an opportunity to express their culture at school. I support the Black Excellence Club and how they approached the hallway music. Their music choices were vetted by school officials, and I did not find any of their content to be questionable or profane.”

In their interview, Noah and Jaedyn said that they chose the music with students in mind and that students had shared positive responses with them

Senior Margarette Lim said, “I think [this month’s music is] a lot better than what we usually play. It’s a great change hearing songs that we actually like. I hope we incorporate it for the rest of the year.”

Similarly, senior Malak Zougari said, “The music being broadcast during this month was amazing…It was something I looked forward to hearing at the end of class every band.”

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