Our Stories

The AAPC’s Black History Living Museum Goes Online for 2021

“We were having this discussion: ‘What can we do for the parents, for the students, so that we can engage each other and come together and share our history?’…So we came up with this project, and we called it Black History Living Museum. You know why it’s ‘Living’? Because our history is alive and well. It’s not the past, it’s now.” Nicole Phoenix, Black History Living Museum Co-Chair

by Brianna Chu | Digital Storyteller

One of the African American Parent Council (AAPC)’s most beloved initiatives is the Black History Living Museum (BHLM), which debuted in May of 2019. This innovative and interactive project brings the PUSD community together through story. PUSD parent and BHLM co-chair Nicole Phoenix joined the AAPC after her family moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Pasadena, looking for a place to find information, resources, and get more engaged with the school district. Through the AAPC, she learned about opportunities for PUSD students, found rewarding parent engagement, as well as support, advice, and answers to every question she had about Pasadena, about the school district, and about how to help her daughters succeed.

2021 BLACK HISTORY LIVING MUSEUM You can watch all the amazing presentations here.

Phoenix introduced the idea of a research project for elementary students, who would research an African-American person, either past or present, and create a presentation board on that individual. On the day of the museum, students dress up as their chosen person and come to life, introducing their research as if they were that individual.

The Inaugural Black History Living Museum (from left to right, top to bottom) winners: Taylor Dansby, Kendall Jones-Wright, Austin Ewing, and Sophia Phoenix. | Images courtesy of Nicole Phoenix.

The BHLM is more than just a school project; after all, the presentations are ungraded. BHLM hopes to foster unity and shared humanity through storytelling. Students can relate and see themselves in the person that they’ve researched and step into someone else’s shoes—literally. All students from third to fifth grade are invited to participate, and the committee encourages students to use the research for their Black History Month class projects for their BHLM presentation.

Students are judged based on the best overall speech, presentation, and creativity bringing their person to life. Previously, the BHLM judges have included various members of the PUSD community: from PUSD Board members, to teachers, to parents. The AAPC’s executive team stepped in to do the judging this year, though none of them enjoyed having to choose between students.

While there is a certain criteria students need to meet, students are in competition with themselves more than anyone else. All students are given certificates for participating, and the committee wants students to know that aside from the criteria, there is no right or wrong way to create and deliver their presentation. Each student’s individuality and voice is heard, valued, and celebrated.

Through this project, the AAPC hopes to enhance cultural competence alongside uplifting students’ voices.

Of course, the pandemic hit worldwide in 2020, halting, among other things, the AAPC’s plans to continue the wildly popular project. Despite the circumstances, the committee didn’t want to just set the BHLM aside, so they turned to each other and the wider PUSD community to figure out how to make it happen virtually. Co-chairs Kim Jones and Nicole Phoenix, along with the BHLM committee, put in hours of work to put together a program akin to an online guided tour of the BHLM.

On May 13, 2021, the BHLM streamed live from the Collaborate PASadena YouTube channel, including participants from seven PUSD elementary schools and both live and recorded presentations. There were some limits: to the number of students, to interviewing capabilities, and to direct interactions between audience members and the presenting students; but the support and enthusiasm was still very much there, as messages of support flooded the chat via Zoom and YouTube.

Phoenix recalls some teachers remarking to her, “I can’t believe this student agreed to be in the project! They’re so shy!” Feedback like that encourages her, knowing that BHLM helps give students a voice and an opportunity to be “seen, heard, and adored.” Not all students get the chance to practice public speaking in the classroom, and the Council is so proud of them for participating—whether live or on video—overcoming that vulnerability and shining in their roles.

AAPC Chair Nia Bailey notes that not all BHLM participants are Black, and the spirit of the project engenders one of inclusivity and reflection. One of Abigail’s questions, a 2021 BHLM participant embodying Misty Copeland, was asked in her interview concerned diversifying ballet companies. Her response advocated not just for the greater inclusion of Black dancers, but Asian and Indigenous dancers as well.

Pictured from left to right: BHLM 2021 Hamilton winners Abigail Clevenger, Jaylon Nesbitt, and Asha Kohli Lynch. | Image courtesy of Natasha Mahone.

BHLM 2021 Jackson Elementary winner Alexzandra Spratling (center) pictured with AAPC Chair Nia Bailey (left) and Jackson Elementary principal Rita Exposito (right). | Image courtesy of Nia Bailey

The feedback and enthusiasm for the BHLM has been overwhelmingly positive; and Phoenix loves how parents continue to engage with them, sending texts and email suggestions on how to make the project better. She says, “We love the feedback; we want to build on students’ potential to be public speakers and researchers…The difficult part is that people want us to go K-8, but that would depend on the capacity of the committee to undertake increasing the grades. We would love to, though.” She adds, “Service on the committee is open to all community members.”

The AAPC welcomes others to pick this project up and make it their own. When one PUSD school missed the entry deadline in 2019, they—led by their principal—organized and held their own BHLM with about 18-20 participants, much to the AAPC’s delight.

In future, the AAPC hopes to bring the BHLM to another venue, like the Pasadena City Hall. They hope to see more of the Pasadena community involved in what PUSD students are doing, even if they don’t have a student in the district.

You can watch all the amazing presentations from the 2021 Black History Living Museum here.


The BHLM 2021 Participants are:

Madeline Butler | Sierra Madre               as Hatshepsut

Sidney Butler | Sierra Madre                   as Benjamin Banneker

Abigail Clevenger | Hamilton               as Misty Copeland

Sarai Hamilton | Hamilton                as Madame CJ Walker

Bonita Hefty | Field                           as Shirley Chisolm

Mali Hudson | Webster                        as Ruby Bridges

Ivy Jackson | Willard                           as Madame CJ Walker

Asha Kohli Lynch | Hamilton                as Angela Davis

Jaylon Nesbitt | Hamilton                   as Serena Williams

Julian Chinchilla Ricard | McKinley       as Louis Armstrong

Alexzandra Spratling | Jackson            as Maria P. Williams


The BHLM 2021 Winners are:

Grand Prize: Jaylon Nesbitt | Hamilton          as Serena Williams

1st Prize: Abigail Clevenger | Hamilton           as Misty Copeland

2nd Prize: Ivy Jackson | Willard                as Madame CJ Walker

3rd Prize: Asha Kohli Lynch | Hamilton               as Angela Davis

4th Prize: Alexzandra Spratling | Jackson    as Maria P. Williams

Congratulations to each and every one of these fantastic students as well as the wonderful BHLM Committee that helped make this project a reality!

Brianna Chu | Digital Storyteller

Brianna Chu was born and raised in Pasadena, California, only leaving her hometown to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she earned her Master of Arts degree in International Relations and Psychology. Upon returning to the States, she began sharing stories of local restauranteurs and their food for the Pasadena Independent. She now also holds the role of Digital Storyteller for the Pasadena Educational Foundation.