When Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill had its college day in May 2014, N.C. Central University alumna Turquoise Parker – now a second grade teacher at Estes Hills – was perplexed. Why were schools like primarily white institutions, or PWIs, like UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University and N.C. State, the only ones represented?
The issue hit home later when her students commented on her phone case. “I had my NCCU phone case, and the students thought it was N.C. State,” Parker said. “Shouldn’t these elementary students know about the rich legacy of HBCUs like N.C. Central University as well?” she wondered. That’s when Parker struck upon the idea of organizing an HBCU Week at Estes Hills Elementary. “I wanted to expose and percent implant seeds in the children,” said Parker. “Ninety percent of them have not heard of HBCUs.”
Parker was inspired to create HBCU Week, which she hopes will become an annual event, because she feels that Estes Hills Elementary students need to be informed about equality and racial and ethnic diversity. Parker said diversity is important and it’s never too early to teach children about it. Parker said she wanted to teach the kids the difference between HBCUs and PWIs and affirm that a 4.0 GPA means the same at either type of institution.
At Estes Hills, kindergarteners were assigned to learn about Johnson C. Smith University. First graders were assigned to learn about Winston-Salem State University, and second graders learned about N.C. Central University and Elizabeth City State University. The third grade was assigned to learn about Shaw University and Livingstone College. Fourth graders were assigned to learn about St. Augustine College and Fayetteville State University.
HBCU week at Estes Hills concluded on March 27 with the fun part — a pep rally that brought together all 500 Estes Hills Elementary students with NCCU’s Sound Machine Marching Band. Some NCCU fraternities also participated. The students filed into the school’s gym, which was decorated with North Carolina HBCU posters. The gym buzzed with excitement. First grade teaching assistant Savada Gilmore stepped up to the microphone and shouted “I.”
The entire student body shouted back “I.” He shouted “AM.” They shouted back “AM.” And so on until the sentence “I am ready to listen” was completed. Then Gilmore asked each class a few questions about the HBCU they had researched about. When asked what the mascot for NCCU was, the second graders shouted, “Eagles.” A highlight of the pep rally was when former NCCU band percussionist Marcus Joyner took the stage to display his drumming acumen. Joyner was the drummer stunt double in 2014 film “Drumline 2.” During the close up drum solos, Joyner’s hands were the hands recorded. “You can accomplish anything as long as you put your mind to it,” Joyner explained to the kids.
Joyner then played the drums to the hit song “One Less Problem” by Ariana Grande featuring Iggy Azalea. Joyner said it is important to help the kids. He added, “I will do whatever I can.” NCCU’s Sound Machine Marching Band taught the students the “NCCU chant.” The fraternities of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. came and talked to the children. They also strolled while the band played. “It is important to give back to the community. I want to teach them that it is important to live successful lives,” Deron Avery, business administration sophomore and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. member, said. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella also attended the rally, along with faculty members. “Being in Chapel Hill, the children don’t get exposure,” said third grade teacher Kimberly Taylor. “They only know about UNC-Chapel Hill.” Substitute teacher Rani Imandi said the pep rally was good and brought awareness to the children.