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CCS teacher selected for workshop on African American Gullah Culture

Mark Parsons (right) teaches performing arts students at Christchurch School.

Christchurch School visual and performing arts chair Mark Parsons was one of 72 teachers selected as a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Scholar to participate in a Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop focused on one of the early African-American cultures in the U.S.

Parsons attended the week-long workshop “Gullah Voices: Traditions and Transformations” in Savannah, Ga., to gain historic insight into the Gullah community in the corridor between North Carolina and Florida. The teachers experienced the culture directly, hearing performances by groups, and participating in traditional activities. They also visited sites such as Pin Point Heritage Museum in the former Varn & Sons Oyster Canning Factory; The Georgia Historical Society, the oldest continuously operating historical society in the south; Penn Center in St. Helena; and Hog Hammock, the last Gullah community on the Sea Islands.

The Gullah are the descendants of enslaved Africans who lived in the coastal and island regions of Georgia and South Carolina. The Creole language of the Gullah has an English base with elements from various West African languages.

“These fascinating and culturally rich folks are direct descendants of enslaved peoples who survived the “middle passage” and became a part of the culture of the low country of Georgia and South Carolina,” said Parsons. “While only a few still live in community, their songs, their food and their customs are evident throughout the world. Through lecture, study, music, dance, food and story we came to know a bit more of this complex and important facet of how an enslaved population brought about innovation, change and long-lasting impact on America. Though painful at times, the revelation and poignant realization of the lives and import of these people is testament to the human spirit and serves to teach us all valuable lessons today. It is my hope that in the coming months my students will listen, learn and live the value of my experience and find ways to change their perspective and that of those around them.”

The CCS Visual & Performing Arts Department offers voice and theatre training, and after-school theatre and drama. Academic offerings include “The Art of Acting,” “The Nature of Music,” Music in World Cultures,” and a schedule of art classes ranging from introductory to advanced.

posted 08.10.2016

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