DECATUR — The International Club at St. Teresa High School has delved into a variety of cultures in its time, but perhaps none quite so close to home as Black History Month.
Members Sárah Buckner, a junior whose mother is from Ethiopia, and Lauryn Rowe-Adams, a senior, will lead the club through its first-ever exploration, with Ethiopia the country of the month for February.
“I have a lot of mixed feelings about this,” Lauryn said. “The reason I want to do this is, there's so much hatred and bitterness in the world right now. I want people to take from this that coming together and learning more about a culture is for everyone to learn that black history is everyone's history.
"It's not just a certain race or a certain culture; it's everyone's culture.”
The students plan to have a movie night to see “The Black Panther” on Feb. 16 at the Avon Theatre, and Lauryn said the movie includes a lot of African culture elements. The school's Jeans for Quarters Friday on Feb. 23 will benefit the African American Cultural and Genealogical Society and Museum.
Sárah's parents met and married in Ethiopia when her father, Brian, went there to teach English. The family, which includes Sarah's brother, is looking forward to taking a trip there in the next year.
Her mother, Hagossa, has several brothers and sisters in Massachussetts, but hasn't been to Ethiopia to see her aunts, uncles and cousins for years. Sárah is looking forward to seeing where her mom grew up and meeting her grandmother.
Toward the end of the month, Hagossa Buckner will visit the International Club to showcase food and clothing from Ethiopia and talk to them about the culture, Sarah said.
“I think it's very important to have a diverse culture, especially here at St. Teresa, so the students will learn more about something they haven't really heard a lot about,” Sárah said. “Ethopia is an interesting culture and a great country, so I think my mom being from there, it's a great opportunity for the kids to learn about the country.”
Sárah and her parents will go to St. Louis to get the ingredients for authentic Ethiopian ingera, because it's not available locally, she said. Ingera is a type of sourdough bread, and it's eaten with chicken and greens.
Brian Buckner, an author, has studied Ethiopia and Egypt all his life, Sárah said, and he'll also visit the same day to help with the presentation on the country.
While learning about Ethiopia as the country of the month, the students will also be studying American black history, Lauryn said.
She's preparing a presentation on Henrietta Lacks, for example, who was a cancer patient in 1951. The cancer cells taken from Lacks by Johns Hopkins Hospital then continue to be used today in research. Her cells, unlike most people's, continued to multiply and survive and still do.
Named HeLa cells, for her first and last names, they're used to study toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on cancer cells, used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome and learn more about how viruses work. They played a crucial role in the development of the polio vaccine.
Lauryn said she wanted to highlight black Americans whose names and stories are not as well known for the first Black History Month of the club.
St. Teresa doesn't have the racial diversity of a public school, Sárah said, which makes it even more important to her to highlight black history.
“This is a very big deal for all of us,” Sárah said. “Getting everybody involved in understanding and learning about the black culture and getting it firsthand.
"You know there's not many African-American students at St. Teresa, so I think it's very important for us to broadcast it to everybody and let them see us being involved in different things," she added. "I think it's long overdue for us to be celebrating this.”
Lauryn is the committee chair for the month's activities.
“It was my idea, just because I had experienced a lot of negativity for being black,” Lauryn said. “I never thought it could happen to me, and when it did, and I saw the difference between how I was treated and labeled, I just saw it as me being labeled as 'just a black girl' and being stereotyped.”
Her first experience was less than a year ago, she said, and made her want to “fight back” through education.
“Instead of being angry and bitter about it, why not turn it into something positive?” she said.