Local History

Coloring Our Past

By Published On: May 28th, 2022

Last school year, our Searching for Slavery class was encouraged to explore ways to authentically share our work with the community. The idea of a public event appealed to us.

Fast forward to this year, nine community schools – public and independent, middle, and high school – gathered on April 28 and 29 at Troutbeck in Amenia, NY, to share the fruits of year-long research projects that examined our region’s BIPOC Community (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) for something that has never been done before in the Northwest corner.

Schools and students coming together

The event opened with a resounding performance by Indian Mountain School’s voices of Lift Every Voice and Sing written by historic Troutbeck Amenia Conference attendee, James Weldon Johnson. Salisbury School’s Robert Castro-Terrio ‘22 and myself, Clarence Nurse ‘22, took on hosting duties and shared Salisbury documentaries that centered Troutbeck squarely in our nation’s history. Indian Mountain continued with documentaries, while Hotchkiss School’s students combined artistic pieces in the gallery with their documentaries and presentations highlighting different aspects of this hard history.

Sharon Center School painted an accompaniment to Langston’s Hughes poem on Great Migration and filmed and recited a “cinepoem,” and Marvelwood School wowed everyone with their documentary, Black Moses, on the nationalism of Marcus Garvey. Housatonic Valley Regional High School put together info-graphs on the Troutbeck attendees, the mahogany carvings adorning the property, and the geography of Troutbeck. The Wassaic Project collaborated with three New York State public schools as young students recreated artistic pieces that used the messiness of today’s world to construct solutions based on the models of past Civil Rights pioneers.

Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries of Ohio State University, photographer Nona Faustine, Silas Munro of Polymode Studio, and Mike Morand and Melissa Barton of Yale’s Beinecke Library, all spoke on the work students have been doing and shared some impactful and inspiring work of their own to bring it all together and hopefully solidify the Symposium as an annual event.

On Thursday, Faustine, Munro, and Jeffries shared their thoughts on presentations as they went on, giving words of encouragement and offering a level of intellect and creativity that you can only get with individuals of that caliber and expertise. Students were attentive and dialed into the words of the panelists, so much so that during breaks you could see groups forming around each panelist with guests lining up to gather more knowledge and soak in as much as they could.

Giving recognition

Also highlighted was a display of work towards the back of the Troutbeck ballroom for guests to examine, which included posters that had information on historically significant Black people and events that have not been given proper recognition. For example, on one display was a description and picture of the Spingarn Medal, an award for outstanding achievement by a Black person.

Friday’s guests included students from Litchfield along with local community members. Dr. Jeffries gave a striking talk on America’s complacency about our history, and how we value nostalgia for the “good old times,” rather than the times themselves that we are too uncomfortable to address.

Silas Munro enlightened the audience on his work at Polymode Studio, a minority-owned studio that inspires positive social change, while Nona Faustine, accompanied by close friend, Douglas Turner, kept the crowd’s attention with her project, White Shoes, where she reclaims Black sites in New York City that were once forgotten and with education and persistence become public places by photographing herself wearing nothing but white shoes.

Mike Morand and Melissa Barton from Yale’s Beinecke Library presented Friday afternoon and applauded the pioneering work of the students. Soon after learning about the Symposium, they reached out and partnered with students, excited to open the archives to help groups discover and tell stories.

The first Troutbeck Symposium was a total success. Students from Salisbury School will be making a video on the event in the coming weeks that will show how students, teachers, and members of the community had a great time coming together to share knowledge, exchange inspiration, and enjoy the hospitality and beauty of Troutbeck. Many have their fingers crossed that the event will become an annual affair.

This project was supported by a number of community organizations. For additional information visit https://coloringourpast.org and https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/hudson-valley/news/2022/04/28/troutbeck-symposium-uncovers-forgotten-black-history

Clarence Nurse is a senior at Salisbury School majoring in History at The University of Miami next year.