Song lifts voices and aspirations

Longfellow pupils sing on CD single for Black Saga contest

February 14, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

In a Baltimore recording studio last weekend, about a dozen Longfellow Elementary School children stood in front of microphones and sang a list of professions - lawyer, artist, teacher, scientist, writer and actor - to which they aspire.

Those lyrics are at the end of This Is Who We Are, a song written to promote the Black Saga Competition, an annual statewide event testing students' knowledge of African-American history.

The song carries the theme that "the road we're traveling on has been paved by people who have done great things before us and allowed us to move to the future," said Chance Glenn, who wrote it. He also is the founder and lead songwriter of Morningbird Music, an independent music publishing company in the Baltimore-Washington area that is releasing the single.

The Longfellow schoolchildren, who are participating in the Black Saga Competition in Howard County schools, have been practicing with Glenn the past few weeks and recorded the song Saturday morning. But Glenn said he was careful to not take too much time from their African-American history studies.

"They're eager to do it. They're excited about the different things that are happening," said Glenn, a Columbia resident.

The song will be packaged as a compact disc single - possibly including video footage of the pupils recording it - to be released before the Black Saga state competitions March 23 at University of Maryland, College Park.

Glenn said he decided to put his feelings to music after he attended a meeting at Columbia's Longfellow Elementary about the competition and became inspired by the event's goal to teach African-American history to young schoolchildren.

He realized the program had no defining music, and soon "songwriter wheels started turning in my head."

"The words really highlight the program and speak to what it's really about," Glenn said.

In the song, Glenn and Sabrina Neita sing lead vocals, and the schoolchildren - including Glenn's sons, 10-year-old Michael and 9-year-old Markiss, who attend Longfellow - sing the chorus.

"We are strong, and this road we are on has been paved by the ones who have gone on before," the children sing.

Neita, who has a son who attends Longfellow, said that when she read the lyrics, she was "in shock." She said the words, which she called "phenomenal," honestly depict her feelings toward African-American history.

Part of the proceeds from the CD single, which Glenn estimated might sell for $10 each, will go to the Black Saga Foundation and to Longfellow Elementary School.

In the Black Saga Competition, children in fourth through eighth grades are responsible for knowing answers to more than 700 questions about African-American history. Elementary and middle schools across the state hold an in-school competition this month - Black History Month - and the two top teams from each school advance to the state competition.

Charles M. Christian, a social geographer at University of Maryland, College Park, created the contest in 1992. He mentored 29 African-American boys from Prince George's County's Beltsville Academic Center for a day and began asking them questions from the book he was writing at the time, Black Saga: The African-American Experience.

"Many of these young kids were simply holding their hands up and really screaming, doing educational screams, wanting to answer questions," Christian said. "And we knew we were onto something."

Forty-three schools - including Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties - are participating in the event, in its 10th year.

Christian said the competition aims to make children more aware of the "full and inclusive American history." Often, African-American history is allocated to "sidebars or little snippets" in history textbooks, he said.

"I think it's terribly demeaning for the nation to just simply sit back and watch the presentation of the African-American experience be so limited to, let's say, five African-American heroes," he said.

Christian said he hopes the song will allow youths to feel part of the African-American experience, and motivate them to study such material year-round. He said one of the more powerful aspects of the song is when the children sing the number of vocations that African-Americans hold.

"I think that's a very key component of what we're trying to do - expand the horizons for these young people, that they can do anything they wish," he said.

Neita said she's been learning more than she expected as her son, 10-year-old Brandon, a Longfellow fifth-grader, studies for the competition.

"I thought I knew a lot about African-American history," Neita said. "But you realize you don't know everything."

She said she's inspired as she watches the children, of all races, having fun during their study sessions for the competition. She said they're so driven to learn, "they're on fire."

"As each generation gets better, the next generation will be better," she said. "But we must teach it, and education is everything."

Neita said that message is prevalent throughout the song, which has been in her head since she began singing it.

"That song has an essence," she said. "The whole spirit of the song, you'll never forget the song."

Information on how to buy the CD: Morningbird Music, 877-889- 6921, or www.chanceglenn.org.

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