Black History Month program is a family affair at WNHS
Last February, Mariah Chaffin was deep into practices for Westerville North High School’s 2023 Black History Month program when she wrapped up the script for the 2024 production.
While serving as one of the leads in last year’s production, Chaffin was also preparing for next year’s show and her first stint as a student director.
“I’m trying to do the best that I can do,” she said. “I need to make my family proud. The people who started (the Black History Month program at WNHS), I feel like I owe it to them to make this show the best it can be.”
Chaffin is the last in a succession of relatives who have been involved in the Black History Month program at WNHS. Her aunt, Sybil, organized the first BHM program in 1991, with her mother, Sheri; her aunt, Shonna; and her uncle, Ceylon leading productions through 1999.
And when the first of her cousins in Westerville attended WNHS in 2012, it sparked another line of family members involved in BHM programs that ends when Chaffin graduates next year.
“It’s in our bones,” said Sheri Chaffin, Mariah’s mother who has also served as an educator in Westerville City Schools for more than 20 years. “It’s something that is dear to our hearts.”
Sheri, who attended Westerville schools from 1981 to 1994, and her sister were the only two Black students at Robert Frost Elementary when they first came to the district. During Black History Month, her parents would visit classrooms to talk about Black history — a practice they continued even when Sheri and her sister moved on to middle school.
The Black History Month program at WNHS started with the same intentions that hold true across the district today: to inform, educate and celebrate Black history.
“Growing up, we would learn Black history at home, but there was no history being talked about in our school as far as Black history was concerned,” said Sheri, who is principal at Huber Ridge Elementary.
“If you are going to school with people of all different ethnicities from all different cultures and heritages and if we’re saying that we are a school community, we need to know about each other. And not just based on assumptions, but on the truth.”
Sybil started a student group, In Different Shades, which launched WNHS’ first Black History Month program in 1991. Her uncle, Raymond Wise, wrote the script which explored Black history through the lens of music.
Since then, members of Chaffin’s family have written scripts, performed dances, sang songs and acted in scenes for programs that span 25 years, collectively.
For Sheri, watching both of her daughters take the lead with their BHM shows has been a source of pride.
“It’s history repeating itself,” she said. “From where we were to where we are now, it’s miles. However, we still have more work to do. To see my kids continue on in that, it’s pure joy.”
There was no question that Chaffin was going to be part of WNHS’ BHM show. She recalls watching her cousin’s production when she was in elementary school and attending shows her older sister, Maya, had been a part of while she was in middle school. Chaffin joined Maya for her last BHM production when she came to WNHS as a freshman.
“The community and family piece to our show is special, different,” Mariah said. “It adds to the historical aspect to our show that is really special.”
As she prepares for WNHS’ upcoming show later this month, she has already started work on a concept for next year’s production.
- Westerville City Schools
- Westerville North High School