When Nisha Blackwell attended Westinghouse High School, she remembers looking at the names of the illustrious graduates on the school’s Wall of Fame—Billy Strayhorn, Chuck Cooper, Mary Lou Williams—and thinking, “I want to be on there.”
At the rate she’s going, she has a good chance. Blackwell, the founder and owner of Knotzland, the artisan bowtie and accessories business based in Homewood, is among those being honored by Pittsburgh Public Schools during Black History Month.
Reached by phone while on a business trip to Manhattan, Blackwell said the experience is surreal.
“It’s like I’m watching someone else see their dreams come true,” she said. “I’m so busy working at it, I don’t really think about it. But now that I do—it’s pretty awesome.”
Blackwell credits her Westinghouse English teachers, Miss Hall, Ms. Turner and Ms. Amos, with pushing her to do her best—and Ms. Harris, the guidance counselor who got her into Edinboro University.
“That changed my life,” she said.
In all, the district will highlight the contributions of 21 PPS graduates who are making their marks in the arts for Black History Month. The district’s website has posted a pictorial tribute to the alumni. PPS schools are also hosting events and learning opportunities to celebrate Black History Month.
“This year, it is important for us to take a different approach to celebrating Black History Month” said Anthony Hamlet, EdD, Superintendent of Schools. “From award-winning authors to muralists, we acknowledge that the city has heroes right here in our own backyard, making history and depositing rich art and culture into the community.”
Another of the honorees, CAPA graduate Alisha Murray, can remember writing in her fifth-grade yearbook that she wanted to be a music teacher—and now she is, at the district’s South Hills 6-8 School in Beechview.
“It’s an honor. I really think it’s great that they would do this as a way to honor and celebrate our culture,” she told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “I just feel so thankful to even be considered as an example. It’s a blessing that all my hard work has paid off.”
She said she could never have done it without the district’s support.
“I became a much better musician,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to increase my skills under marvelous teachers and enhance my love for music and performing. And now I’m teaching kids how to read and write music—we have a lot of amazing musicians here.”
For the full calendar and information on each artist the district is highlighting throughout the month, please visit http://www.pghschools.org/blackhistory.
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