COLUMBIA – Far from being a stoic waitstaff, Lange Middle School students ran and giggled as they took orders and delivered food to their patrons, transforming their school cafeteria into a makeshift restaurant Tuesday night.
The sit-down dinner of pulled pork, chicken, cornbread and greens, accompanied by a silent auction and entertainment, was a celebration of Black History Month and a tribute to Nelson Mandela.
Lange Middle School Minority Achievement Committee Scholars hosted the school's third-annual Black History Month event with the help of MAC Scholars Parent Board, parents, businesses and community organizations. The event was open to the public and families were encouraged to attend.
This was the third year in a row the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars hosted events for Black History Month. The scholars program works to encourage and increase academic achievement among minority students, according to the Columbia Public Schools website.
Columbia College student Christa Copeland said she came to the event to support the kids and her friend who works at the school.
"This is phenomenal," Copeland said, eating at a table with friends. "It teaches them manners because they're the ones serving and not the adults."
The week's lesson in Dominique Falls' leadership class focused on citizenship, which tied into the community service at Tuesday night's event.
"The kids are doing awesome," Falls said. "We're providing service with a smile."
Behind the light-hearted event was a deeper lesson to be learned.
Minority Achievement Committee Scholars coordinator Arnulfo Peat explained that aside from Mandela's recent death, there are other reasons for choosing him as the center of the Black History Month event.
"We chose Nelson Mandela this year because he was historic, and because of his death and he lived an amplified life," Peat said. "We want to teach the kids to stand up for themselves like he did."
And the kids literally did stand up later that night — on stage.
Parents sat in bleachers to watch the performance. Parent Debbie Whiteford sat in the front row of the bleachers waiting to watch her daughter Katelyn perform with the scholars choir.
"She, I mean they, all have been working really hard on this," Whiteford said.
Kietha Renfroe, a seventh-grade science teacher at Lange, came to the podium in traditional African garb and sang the Black National Anthem, also known as "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson.
The scholars presented facts and anecdotes from the lives of Mandela and his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Between speeches, the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars Choir and the Battle High School Gospel Choir performed songs and gospel hymns.
Parents and teachers in the audience didn't hesitate to clap and sing along when they knew the words.
All proceeds from the night will help fund scholars' field trips. This year, Lange eighth-graders will go to St. Louis to visit museums and colleges. The sixth- and seventh-graders will join students from Gentry and Oakland middle schools to visit Exchange City in Kansas City.
Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.