SMCC honor society project introduces African culture to young children

SMCC students have brought African masks, music and culture to the College as part of an effort to introduce young children to new cultures and reduce racial stereotyping.

For this year’s Honors in Action project, students in the SMCC chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society organized a hands-on presentation that treated preschool children to African culture through storytelling, music, history and authentic African masks.

Oscar Mokeme of The Museum of African Culture

Oscar Mokeme, executive director of The Museum of African Culture, entertained and educated children ages 3-5 during a two-hour presentation on Nov. 16 at SMCC’s Spring Point Children’s Center, located in the Early Childhood Education Center.

Mokeme introduced the youngsters to an assortment of African masks and musical items while passing them around so children could feel them with their own two hands. The children then made paper masks of their own before ending with a masquerade presentation.

PTK’s Honors in Action topic theme this year is Heirs of Our Ways, with the question: How do you acknowledge our inheritance and support children in ways that promote humanity’s greatest potential?

“We chose this theme because several of our active members are future educators and deemed this study pertinent to our successes as inclusive and equitable future educators,” said PTK chapter President Andrea Atkinson, who plans to become an art teacher after she’s completed her education. “We found that children start to encounter racism, biases and stereotypes at a young age, and believe we can support them with positive experiences with different cultures at a young age to promote empathy and critical thinking.”

For the project, PTK students organized, funded and hosted the interactive educational program with Mokeme, who told background stories and histories to the children about the different masks and African traditions. Parents, SMCC staff, Atkinson and fellow PTK member Sully Sullivan were among those who also watched.

The Museum of African Culture, which is virtual and based in Portland, has a three-pronged mission:

• Education through the use of art, music, drama, literature, storytelling, spirituality, drumming and movement/dance
• Preservation of its unique collection of African art and artifacts
• And celebration of diversity

For its 2020-21 Honors in Action project, SMCC’s PTK chapter organized an awareness and fundraising campaign to benefit the Abyssinian Meeting House, a wood-frame building constructed in 1828 that was a religious, educational and cultural center for Portland’s African-American community.