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man stands on stage with paintings in the background
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man with microphone by stage
woman with microphone by stage
Middle School Hosts Series of Convocations to Celebrate Black History

The Bolles Middle School Bartram Campus partnered with The Ritz Theatre and Museum for a series of convocations during February’s Black History Month designed to educate students about the significant contributions of Black activists, artists and historical figures with ties to Jacksonville.

The Ritz Theatre and Museum was constructed in 1999 on the site of the 1929 Ritz Theater movie house in Jacksonville’s historic African American community of La Villa. During La Villa’s height of activity in the 1920s-1960s, it was known as the “Harlem of the South.” The mission of the Ritz Theatre and Museum is connecting communities to the past, present and future contributions and stories of African American arts and culture in Jacksonville.

Members of The Ritz Theatre and Museum team discussed the full history of the theater and its importance in La Villa and to those who lived in the community. They also taught the students about brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson, who wrote and composed the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” now often referred to as “The Black National Anthem.” The Johnson brothers have strong ties to Jacksonville, and the song was first performed in public in the city to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The Bulldogs also learned about Augusta Savage, a celebrated sculptor born in Green Cove Springs, who created a commissioned piece for the 1939 New York World’s Fair titled “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as “The Harp.”

In addition to these fascinating lessons in Black History, The Ritz Theatre and Museum invited local Black artists to talk to the middle schoolers in Parker Auditorium and share more about their creative processes. The students asked the guests thoughtful questions and continued conversations with their peers and teachers in the classroom.

On February 26, Bolles bus driver Damon Council joined The Ritz Theatre and Museum representatives for the last convocation of the series, showcasing his stunning paintings and sharing his impressive background in the arts. Council studied art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, before becoming an art director at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue. He began painting during the Covid-19 pandemic, tapping into his creativity and talent to express himself on the canvas.

Special thanks to Council and all the speakers from The Ritz Theatre and Museum for giving our students meaningful opportunities to learn about, connect with and celebrate Black culture! #BollesBartram