Not too much older than the children performing, junior staff members Yonna, Lataria and Kenya (not shown here) all helped with the dance, modeling and step performance pieces. Naraspur also helped with the performances and the speeches as well.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The black history program held at the Thomas Jet Jackson Recreation Center saw record-breaking numbers last Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a good feeling and when we see the children enjoying it, that’s the most important thing,” said center supervisor Barbara Walton.
Whether it’s at one of the city’s recreation centers or other programs for children around town, Walton has spent the better part of her life helping children find their creativity. Teaching history with a little music and dance mixed in helps the young ones learn about their culture.
“It helps the children that are withdrawn to bring them out of their shells,” said Walton. “When we introduce music to children, they seem to wake up.”
Walton’s sister, Casandra Jones, revealed that ever since Walton was 14 years old, she’s been gathering neighborhood children together to put on talent shows.
Barbara Walton, left, with Alison Srinivasa
“This has been her passion for a long time,” said Jones, who has starred in Walton’s productions since she was six years old. “She loves kids and that’s what has brought her here.”
Although Jones is not employed with the city, she makes sure she volunteers her time each year to help her sister serve the community.
“They get tired of seeing me,” Jones said jokingly. “I follow her from center to center. I don’t work here, but I’m family.”
For the past two years, the city’s Teen Arts, Sports, and Cultural Opportunities program (TASCO) has sponsored the event, which gives it a more festival-like feel. However, Walton is ready to go back to the small, intimate program with just the center’s children and their parents.
Such as years past, the children made speeches and recited quotes from historical figures, but with TASCO involved, they were on a huge stage in front of hundreds of cheering fans.
This year, Booker T. Washington (Theodis Wilson), Thurgood Marshall (Marcus Danford), Jackie Robinson (Ramon Green) and Bessie Coleman (Rayven Perry) made appearances, along with Barack Obama (Damarion Feaster), Michael Jordan (Arjun Srinivasa) and Oprah Winfrey (Yu’Nique Brown) just to name a few.
The children performed dance and step routines and a modeling component was added. The center’s staff and junior workers joined forces to pull the show together in a month’s time. Parents helped with the researching and memorizing of speeches, and no doubt learned a little themselves.
“The parents rejoice when they see we aren’t just out here but we are actually teaching these children.”
At one point, Walton said she was going to discontinue the program because it was hard to get the staff all on one page, but the parents protested.
“The positive outweighed the negative,” said Walton, noting that it warms her heart when parents come up and tell the staff how great the program was.
Walton said working with children is her calling. She was once a shy little girl and music and dance helped her to blossom and she aims to bring every withdrawn kid she meets out of their shell.
“This is my calling; it’s a passion. I know it’s my calling.”
The recreation center’s children hail from John Hopkins and Thurgood Marshall Middle Schools along with Perkins, Melrose, Midtown, Southside Academy and Lakeview’s elementary schools.