By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — During a class presentation on Black Catholics, saints and martyrs, fifth-grader Heaven Powell explained why she chose to study model and entrepreneur Naomi Sims. “People told her she was too dark. My skin is dark, too. She inspired me to never give up on my dreams.”
On Feb. 12, students from Allison Schultz’s fifth-grade class at Prince of Peace Catholic School offered presentations on a variety of individuals in honor of Black History Month. “I feel this project was important for the students to learn more about diversity in our country as well as within the Catholic faith,” said Schultz, who also led students in researching and honoring Black Civil Rights leaders during the month of February.
The students’ parents and pen pals from the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton tuned in via video conference. “We often invite the sisters into the classroom to watch their presentations, but this year was different due to COVID-19 restrictions,” Schultz said.
Henry Greve researched basketball great Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter accident last year. “His faith was important to him,” Henry said. “He taught me to never give up, and to never let anyone get me down.” He said he chose Bryant because he likes basketball and Bryant was “really good at basketball.” Henry chose St. Martin de Porres for his saint, describing the Peruvian saint’s long road to joining a religious order at a time when the country prohibited Black individuals from joining religious communities. “He taught me that I can respect anyone, no matter their race or if they are poor or wealthy.”
Mallory Schnier focused the first part of her presentation on Peggy Cooper, who founded the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and worked to end segregation at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “She went through a lot of hard times, but still helped with segregation and civil rights.” For the saints and martyrs section of her presentation, Mallory chose St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. She noted that, like Cooper, St. Monica went through hard times but persevered and shared her faith with others.
Aubrey Tenn chose St. Katherine Drexell as her saint. Born wealthy, the saint “gave up $7 million in order to minister to Natives and Blacks” by starting Catholic schools and missions throughout the United States.
Other presentation subjects included Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes, American trumpeter Louis Armstrong, professional basketball coach Kerry Kittles, professional baseball player Satchel Paige, St. Moses the Black, and St. Josephine Bakhita. Schultz told The Catholic Messenger that information about the lives of Black Catholics and saints is limited, but the class “learned a lot” from what they were able to find.