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Turning Resistance into Art and Community

Black History Month is in February, but Black history is being made every day by people taking action and building on the work of their predecessors. Reconciling the two can be a tricky process, but recently eighth graders at Rowland Hall not only made the connections, but were able to bring them to life in an afternoon of art, spoken word, and other expressions.

Resist: An Arts Cafe was a community event where each student presented about two Black activists, one from the past and one from the present. Students were encouraged to find not only what the two had in common, but also where their work or ideas differentiated, and how the idea of resistance may have morphed or changed over time.

With activism in the past, it was more focused on speaking out and protesting. But my present-day changemaker focuses on working on the system and trying to change injustices within the law.—Yara B., eighth grade

“With activism in the past, it was more focused on speaking out and protesting,” said eighth grader Yara B. “But my present-day changemaker focuses on working on the system and trying to change injustices within the law. It gave me different perspectives.”

“This was an amazing opportunity to further our commitment to equity and inclusion,” said Director of Strategic Initiatives Jij de Jesus. “The students were not only talking about what change looked like in the past but what it looks like now in our local community.”

For the project, numerous members of Utah’s Black community were invited to come into the classroom and speak to the students about their work, their influences, and their lives. This was an important element of the project for eighth-grade American Studies teacher Eve Grenlie, who wanted it not only to be about learning but also about creating community.

“This was a way to build authentic relationships with changemakers and activists, and let the students find similar elements of resistance or resilience on different historical timelines to kind of blend together a narrative,” she said. “I don’t think it would have been impactful if we hadn’t had these people get involved.”

Two Rowland Hall eighth graders dance at Resist: Arts Cafe in February 2024.

Eighth graders chose how they wanted to communicate subjects, including through dance.


James Jackson, author and founder of the Utah Black Chamber, welcomed the invitation to meet with the students. He saw this as an opportunity not only to introduce them to activism but also to lift students of color.

“Projects like this are critical, especially for underrepresented students, because they don’t usually see professionals that look like them walking around,” James said. “This was a way to bridge that gap, by inviting community members in to share their backgrounds and their experiences.”

This project was about expanding the mindsets of all of the students, not only through the subject matter but also in how they would present their projects at the event. Everyone was allowed to decide on how best to communicate the lives of their subjects and their impacts on resistance efforts. Some chose to write, while others composed dances, built art pieces, or even cooked up gumbo.

“It wasn’t about writing an essay. It was about students being able to make connections and create pieces to explain their message and their takeaways,” said Middle School Principal Pam Smith. “The students really had to grapple with different topics and ideas, do personal investigation, and then decide how to display.”

“There were some pretty profound pieces created that showed empathy and understanding and personal connection with both historical and current-day figures,” added Middle School Assistant Principal Charlotte Larsen. “This project pushed and stretched students in some really wonderful ways.”

Rowland Hall eighth graders share art with community members at Resist: Arts Cafe in February 2024..

Students shared their art with Resist attendees.


Many of the people interviewed by the students attended the cafe to view the finished projects—and were blown away by the work the students had done. Melanie D. Davis, Rowland Hall parent and mental health care activist, was amazed that one of the students compared her work helping people carry grief and other emotions with how Harriet Tubman helped people carry themselves as they were escaping enslavement. She also was excited by the possibilities this event created for the future.

It was so inspirational. It gave me a whole new perspective on how I can get involved in the community.—Yara B., eighth grade

“It was pretty cool, not only for the community to realize that this is what’s happening at Rowland Hall, but for the kids to realize that there are these really amazing community organizations that they can be a part of too,” she said. “I think it’s amazing for the kids to meet people of color doing cool stuff and know they are invited to take part.”

The presence of their modern-day mentors at the event was an important part of this project for the students. Having their finished pieces viewed by their subjects gave the work they had done a greater gravitas.

“It was so inspirational,” said Yara. “It gave me a whole new perspective on how I can get involved in the community, talking to these activists and having them see what I think and what I can do.”

Experiences like these are ones Eve hopes will be repeated through a strengthening of community ties. “You don’t want to do a one-off; you hope you are building strong roots within a community so you can continue moving forward and have further depth of knowledge,” she said. “Everything gets hopefully stronger in time.”

Community Engagement

Turning Resistance into Art and Community

Black History Month is in February, but Black history is being made every day by people taking action and building on the work of their predecessors. Reconciling the two can be a tricky process, but recently eighth graders at Rowland Hall not only made the connections, but were able to bring them to life in an afternoon of art, spoken word, and other expressions.

Resist: An Arts Cafe was a community event where each student presented about two Black activists, one from the past and one from the present. Students were encouraged to find not only what the two had in common, but also where their work or ideas differentiated, and how the idea of resistance may have morphed or changed over time.

With activism in the past, it was more focused on speaking out and protesting. But my present-day changemaker focuses on working on the system and trying to change injustices within the law.—Yara B., eighth grade

“With activism in the past, it was more focused on speaking out and protesting,” said eighth grader Yara B. “But my present-day changemaker focuses on working on the system and trying to change injustices within the law. It gave me different perspectives.”

“This was an amazing opportunity to further our commitment to equity and inclusion,” said Director of Strategic Initiatives Jij de Jesus. “The students were not only talking about what change looked like in the past but what it looks like now in our local community.”

For the project, numerous members of Utah’s Black community were invited to come into the classroom and speak to the students about their work, their influences, and their lives. This was an important element of the project for eighth-grade American Studies teacher Eve Grenlie, who wanted it not only to be about learning but also about creating community.

“This was a way to build authentic relationships with changemakers and activists, and let the students find similar elements of resistance or resilience on different historical timelines to kind of blend together a narrative,” she said. “I don’t think it would have been impactful if we hadn’t had these people get involved.”

Two Rowland Hall eighth graders dance at Resist: Arts Cafe in February 2024.

Eighth graders chose how they wanted to communicate subjects, including through dance.


James Jackson, author and founder of the Utah Black Chamber, welcomed the invitation to meet with the students. He saw this as an opportunity not only to introduce them to activism but also to lift students of color.

“Projects like this are critical, especially for underrepresented students, because they don’t usually see professionals that look like them walking around,” James said. “This was a way to bridge that gap, by inviting community members in to share their backgrounds and their experiences.”

This project was about expanding the mindsets of all of the students, not only through the subject matter but also in how they would present their projects at the event. Everyone was allowed to decide on how best to communicate the lives of their subjects and their impacts on resistance efforts. Some chose to write, while others composed dances, built art pieces, or even cooked up gumbo.

“It wasn’t about writing an essay. It was about students being able to make connections and create pieces to explain their message and their takeaways,” said Middle School Principal Pam Smith. “The students really had to grapple with different topics and ideas, do personal investigation, and then decide how to display.”

“There were some pretty profound pieces created that showed empathy and understanding and personal connection with both historical and current-day figures,” added Middle School Assistant Principal Charlotte Larsen. “This project pushed and stretched students in some really wonderful ways.”

Rowland Hall eighth graders share art with community members at Resist: Arts Cafe in February 2024..

Students shared their art with Resist attendees.


Many of the people interviewed by the students attended the cafe to view the finished projects—and were blown away by the work the students had done. Melanie D. Davis, Rowland Hall parent and mental health care activist, was amazed that one of the students compared her work helping people carry grief and other emotions with how Harriet Tubman helped people carry themselves as they were escaping enslavement. She also was excited by the possibilities this event created for the future.

It was so inspirational. It gave me a whole new perspective on how I can get involved in the community.—Yara B., eighth grade

“It was pretty cool, not only for the community to realize that this is what’s happening at Rowland Hall, but for the kids to realize that there are these really amazing community organizations that they can be a part of too,” she said. “I think it’s amazing for the kids to meet people of color doing cool stuff and know they are invited to take part.”

The presence of their modern-day mentors at the event was an important part of this project for the students. Having their finished pieces viewed by their subjects gave the work they had done a greater gravitas.

“It was so inspirational,” said Yara. “It gave me a whole new perspective on how I can get involved in the community, talking to these activists and having them see what I think and what I can do.”

Experiences like these are ones Eve hopes will be repeated through a strengthening of community ties. “You don’t want to do a one-off; you hope you are building strong roots within a community so you can continue moving forward and have further depth of knowledge,” she said. “Everything gets hopefully stronger in time.”

Community Engagement

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