This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The National Constitution Center is usually filled with tourists and historians, but on Friday, it was filled with 350 students from Constitution High School, eager to learn and network at their second annual Black History Month Expo.
The students took a short walk from their high school to the National Constitution Center for the expo. Nearly 70 percent of the students at Constitution High School are black, and more than 90 percent are non-white.
Constitution High School, “Pennsylvania’s first public school dedicated to the teaching of law, democracy, and history,” hosted a similar event last year, but this is the first year that they used the National Constitution Center as the venue, making the day even more unusual for students.
The day was orchestrated by Brittni Jennings, who teaches African American history at the school. She was assisted by volunteers from the senior class, as well as some of her sophomores and juniors, to make the day run smoothly and to help students get the most out of it.
“The theme this year is ‘Exceeding Expectations,’” Jennings said. “We wanted to have a wide variety of black professionals talking about the ways in which they have exceeded expectations, whether the expectations were put upon them by their peers, their environment, the workplace, etc. We wanted to diversify African American success past the stereotype.”
There were 11 speakers, each representing different professional fields. They included Hassani Graves, the president of Worlds Family Capital, an investment club; School District Superintendent William Hite; and Robin Stevens, a Du Bois House Faculty Fellow and an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania.
The speakers were there to be guest teachers for the day, but Jennings also intended for the students to seize the chance they had to speak with these professionals.
“One thing I told the kids, particularly the ones I teach, is you start building your network as a high school student,” she said. “When you come in contact with someone you think is of value to you, you reach out to them and get their contact information. And that’s what been happening today.”
In addition to the professional component of the day, student volunteers helped at each station and workshop. Plus, there was a display of student artwork.
Tyshera Mintz, a sophomore at Constitution, worked at the coat check for part of the day and assisted with checking guests in and out.
“My role is to just make things easier for Ms. Jennings,” Mintz said. “Because she’s such a good teacher, and she has a good personality, I have no problem doing this for her.”
Mintz also highlighted the student artwork that was on display in the center. The National Constitution Center was still open to the public during the expo, meaning that anyone could come in and see the art.
“Even people who don’t even go to our school saw it, which is really nice,” Mintz said.
Mintz said that although some students were probably bored, many took full advantage. “Some thought it was really interesting. Some really appreciate [Jennings] going out of her way to do this for us, and I do, too.”
Said Jennings: “I think Black History Month goes past the month. I want them to have a different experience, past learning about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and people of that nature. I want them to have a more contemporary representation of black history, because history happens all the time, everywhere.”