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Students bring history to life with ‘Blacks-N-Wax’

Bill DeYoung



Oscar-nominated Angela Bassett, seen here in 2022's "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," grew up in St. Petersburg. Bassett is one of the historical figures portrayed in the Shirley Proctor Fuller Foundation's "Blacks-N-Wax" exhibit. Image: Walt Disney Pictures.

For one hour on Feb. 29, young students from the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation MASTR Kids Program will “become” notables from African American history.

The Blacks-N-Wax event takes place from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the cafeteria and outdoor courtyard of John Hopkins Middle School, 701 Queen Street South.

The students, from grades K-8, won’t be covered in wax, project coordinator Keisha Snead says with a laugh. Instead, they’ll be dressed in the appropriate costumes, with props, and “come to life” when attendees “push a button” (actually, it’s a button on a sheet of paper).

“They’ll be standing there motionless, and when they see you push the button, they’ll come to life, say their part, and then go back,” Snead explains.

The Shirley Proctor Fuller Foundation (SPFF) is an after-school program designed to advance reading, math and science literacy “to help close the achievement gap for black/brown/multi-race children in the ‘at-risk’ community of South St. Petersburg.

Snead, the program’s Academic Director, spent 24 years teaching in Pinellas County elementary schools, including Maximo, Mount Vernon and Shore Acres.

She conceived Blacks-N-Wax as a way to encourage her SPFF students to learn about the accomplishments of these successful people.

Snead’s inspiration was Maryland’s National Great Blacks In Wax Museum. “Fourteen years ago, my children and I went to Baltimore for a church event, and we went and saw this museum,” she says. “And it was absolutely life-changing for me. So much so that I talk about it often.

“When you enter through the ground floor, you enter through a slave ship, and it takes you through the different levels of the lives of African Americans.”

The Feb. 29 event will “feature” historical figures such as inventor Lonnie Johnson, civil rights activist A. Phillip Randolph, NAACP co-founder Roy Wilkins, Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel, singer Chaka Khan and founders of the Black Panther movement.

Pinellas County Schools educators created the list, and the students were allowed to choose the people, or persons, they wished to research and re-create.

“They loved the research and they loved learning about people, but the kids were very apprehensive when they found out we were going to do it in front of people,” Snead reveals. “So we’ve been practicing and rehearsing, and being encouraging.”

Theater professional Patrick A. Jackson, manager of education and outreach at the Woodson African American Museum of Florida, came in to “work with them on enunciation, and diction, and being able to look people in the eye,” Snead says.

“’Even though I can’t interact with them, I can still look then in the eye, stand still and project my voice.’ You may mess up, but it’s OK – they don’t know you’ve messed up! It’s not a big deal; just keep right on rolling.”

Significantly, several of the historical figures being portrayed hail from St. Petersburg, including actor Angela Bassett, rapper/singer Rod Wave and movie producer Will Packer.

“These,” says Snead, “are people who lived in the same community where they live, may have gone to the same church they go to, their parents may know them, their grandparents may have known them:

“‘They came from the same place I did, so I can be that person. I will be just like them. I do not have to be a basketball player or a football player. I can go on to be a marine biologist. I can go on to be a film producer. I can go on to be anything that I want to be. Nothing is going to stop me, just because I’m from St. Pete Florida.’”

For more information on the Shirley Proctor Fuller Foundation and its programs, visit the website here.

















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    Danny White

    February 25, 2024at2:12 pm

    This is a brilliant concept to allow kids to emulate people who look like them and have become celebrated icons in their own right. This reinforces the notion that ‘if they can see it, they can be it.’ I hope the event gets tons of media coverage and is recorded in its entirety so the greater public can view it at will.

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