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A lesson in diversity

February 12, 2010
Crystal Nelson

Students at Thunder Bay Junior High School received some diversity education during an assembly Friday afternoon. Performing artists Chaplain and Gwen taught students about the underground railroad through a multi-medium presentation.

The duo, along with the Grisham Family, took students on an hour-long journey from Africa, "the motherland" to Canada, "the promised land," by melding scenes from a photo slideshow together with theatrical performances and negro spirituals.

"As you watch the program, I want you to be in tune to some of the words you might hear because what you hear may not be what you think you hear," Gwen Hardy told the students.

Article Photos

News Photo by Crystal Nelson
Students at Thunder Bay Junior High School watch a performance about the underground railroad by artists Chaplain and Gwen and the Grisham Family Friday afternoon.

"An intricate system of communication" was developed for those seeking freedom on the underground railroad, according to Gwen.

Students were taught various code words, such as "heaven" which refered to the north or Canada. Initially slaves fled to the northern states via the underground railroad but their destination changed to Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Messages for those on the underground railroad also were woven into songs like "Steal Away," "The Drinking Gourd," "Down by the Riverside," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," also performed by the group.

Thunder Bay Arts Council brought the performance to TBJH. Terri Mucciante, TBAC board member, said the performance honors black history month and brings some diversity into Alpena.

Eighth-grade Principal Steve Genschaw said the performance is a "great opportunity" for students since APS is a district with few minorities. He said the performance also meets state education requirements.

"Part of our annual report card for AYP falls under diversity education," he said.

Chaplain and Gwen will perform the underground railroad again today at 5:30 p.m., prior to their performance as part of TBAC's concert series at Alpena Community College's Granum Theatre, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Although the underground railroad performance is free to children and adults, adult admission to the TBAC concert is $12.

Crystal Nelson can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5693.



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