The theme of a Friday night celebration was “Rise Up, Stand Up & Be Heard,” and members of the Boys & Girls Club of the Red River Valley did just that.
The program, which included singing, dancing, poetry recitations and a roundtable discussion, was put together by Boys & Girls Club staff in recognition of Black History Month and saw children of all ages come together to celebrate.
The audience and performers, packed into the gym, were brought to their feet for a rendition of the Black National Anthem before Paster Kendall McAfee-Henry Sr. delivered a rousing invocation, accompanied by his young son, Kendall Jr., on piano.
“I pray that we can be free from the chains of deception, from the chains of racism, from the chains of bigotry, amen,” McAfee said as the crowd called out in agreement.
Audience members stood and cheered with each musical number as the children belted their hearts out to tunes like “Rock a my Soul” and the gospel song “I’m Free.” The young men even got a chance to rap a few verses to “The Man” by Aloe Blacc with each musical number under the direction of Tammy Wallace.
The young women performed a praise dance with carefully practiced choreography accompanied by staff member Sharda Miles singing “Stand Up” from the movie ‘Harriet’ about the legendary Black abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Just as the powerful winter storm two weeks ago impacted life all around Texas, unit director Katrina Mitchell said rehearsals for the performance were delayed because of the weather. But as they say, the show must go on.
“We’d only been practicing probably a little over a month. I feel like the program went awesome, even with us losing a week due to the snow,” Mitchell said. “They came back and started back up this week and I loved every aspect of the program.”
Interspersed with the musical numbers were spoken performances where the children discussed the Civil Rights movement and activists like Rosa Parks. At one point, a group of six members stood in front of the crowd, each acting as a leader in the Black community, like Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr. and Michelle Obama.
One young woman’s recitation culminated in a standing ovation.
“I am the first African American English teacher at Paris Junior College,” she said. “My contributions to the City of Paris are loud in volume, but my personality is soft and well-spoken. I am Joan Mathis.”
Audience members sprang to their feet and turned to applaud Mathis and she smiled and waved with joy.
Mitchell said it “wasn’t her first time at the rodeo” organizing an event like this, saying her involvement with her church and the Girl Scouts helped prepare her with the huge endeavor of teaching a large group of kids songs and dances.
“It’s kinda like a hidden talent that I have,” Mitchell said. “I just love putting programs together.”
Mitchell thanked each and every staff member who made the program possible, making a special shoutout to Ambers “Bucky” Patterson, a long-time director and supporter of the Boys & Girls Club.
As the program came to a close, every performer flooded onto the basketball court to dance and celebrate. Mitchell was showered with hugs as the kids chanted “BGC!” for the Boys & Girls Club.
“To hear the kids chant ‘BGC’ at the end just stirred my soul because they love being here and they love what they do and they’re good at what they do,” Mitchell said.
The Boys & Girls Club of the Red River Valley provides after school programs, mentoring and sports to children in Northeast Texas. For information about how to get involved or donate, visit the club’s Facebook page, Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Paris, Texas.