Photo by Elaina Mankowski
As a self proclaimed redneck kid growing up in South Dakota, Michael Kaul, U.S. history and psychology teacher, was always touched by Dr. Martin Luther King’s words. After ending up teaching in a school with little diversity, he wanted to teach about other cultures and celebrate them.
“It never mattered to me how someone dressed or what their hair looked like,” Kaul said. “It mattered how they treated me and how they treated others.”
When teaching at Hudson High School, Kaul started an all day celebration for Black History Month. He shared culture through poetry, music and speeches. Once he moved back to Stillwater, he brought the tradition with him.
Kaul said he “wanted to do something to honor Dr. King,” by sharing “poetry and speeches.” He said it became a form of “personal expression” for students.
Eventually, the Black History Month presentation became a huge event. It turned from a one day event to a whole week. It became a time to celebrate other cultures within the school and it became more than that; it became an event where students no matter their race or gender were able to express, celebrate and give back to the African American individuals who inspired and enriched their lives.
“I think there is some real cultural sensitivity about who can and should present things,” Kaul said. “I have always thought of it as a time where anyone can share something that spoke to them.”
Not only has the presentation served as an outlet for self expression, but it has also brought attention to the students’ views on Black History Month and black culture.
Freshman Flora Montcho explained the presentation has further opened her eyes to “issues involving race the school has,” and when she presents she hopes it will “give people the comfort of knowing someone sees them.”
The amount of students who have stepped up and wanted to present something meaningful to them is what has truly made Kaul proud throughout his years of putting on this presentation. Kaul was thrilled by this because it added personality to the presentation and allowed students to connect with their peers.
Kaul explained that one year a student named Kevin Reed asked if he could perform a tribute song he wrote for Jimmy Hendrix, his idol. Kaul willingly allowed it.
Another year, Jesse, a student in the special education program, approached Kaul and asked if he could read a poem. He had wrote the poem specifically for the presentation and wanted to share it with his peers.
“It just brought a tear to my eye. It was powerful and beautiful on its own, but along with that, it was read by someone who you would never have expected to read in front of an audience. That was personal expression, and that is what is powerful to me,” Kaul said.
Kaul wants to hear the perspectives of many. It not only influences him, but brings inspiration to the whole audience. He finds meaning in the personal expressions.
“Flora, I hear awesome things about your speeches,” Kaul said.
“My most recent speech is about the N-word. I could take the most meaningful parts and revise it to make it about five minutes long,” Montcho said.
“If you could, that would be amazing. It would really mean a lot to me,” Kaul said.
Black History Month Presentation Today
For a bit of time, the Black History Month presentation was discontinued. Two years ago, Khuluc Yang, senior and student council president sought out Kaul and proposed rebooting the presentation.
“It started when I read a poem,” Yang said. “And then I just kind of fell in love with it. It really brought the whole community together, whether you were a performer, or just somebody in the audience.”
Along with Yang, other student council members that are working on BLAST Week have been working to bring the whole presentation together. The black history month celebration takes place during BLAST week in third hour and flex. Along with students expressing their beliefs and cultures, there are also some special guests attending.
“Robert Robinson [iconic gospel singer from Minnesota] is coming in to close out our presentation. He will blow the doors off this auditorium with his voice,” Kaul added.
The Black History Month presentation celebrates beliefs and history as well as inspiring staff, students and the community. The hopes of it are to teach about black history and give students a platform to express their thoughts and views.
“The self expression is the coolest part to me,” Kaul said. “It’s the part that truly influences others.”