Michelle H. Daino
The Students of Color Affinity (SOCA) group at Mount Saint Mary Academy sponsored two visits to the Center for Creativity in Westfield (formerly The Rialto Theater) in February to explore significant historical figures and milestones during the “African American History in Westfield from 1720” exhibition and documentary event.
Joined by Madeline Albrittain, World Language Department Chair and Students of Color Affinity advisor, the groups enjoyed a walking tour of the town’s sites known for prominent African American influences which was led by senior Zoe Daly '24 and junior Amelia Benjamin '24. These locations included Langston Hughes' and Zora Neale Hurston's former residences, the former slave auction site, the Westfield Community Center and various parks and churches in Westfield that hold historical significance. The students and Ms. Albrittain also met with Kevin Clark, the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church of Westfield, as well as a representative from the Elks Centennial Lodge 400 & Centennial Temple 246, both important historical sites that were pivotal in the town’s African American history. The event, which was sponsored by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association with support from the Westfield Foundation, will continue through the end of February.
Jordyn Collie '23 shared, “The exhibition was enlightening, inspirational, and moving. This is a meaningful part of our history. I, like most people, didn’t realize that there was slavery in Westfield and an actual slave auction place in town. The walking tour highlighted historical importance to African Americans in the town. The exhibit included a presentation on Westfield’s Black Professional Zone, a neighborhood that accommodated African American-owned businesses and offices in town between the 1940s and 1970s.”
“To have something in Westfield where people of color can identify and diversity is represented; a truly exceptional exhibit carefully researched and artistically given!” said Jordyn. “Be sure to catch the films. The depth of information and rare footage and photographs were incredible!”
Zoe added, “I really enjoyed walking through Westfield and learning about its rich Black history. I was not expecting to see so many historical sights so close to the Mount. It was also nice to explore the lesser-known parts of Westfield, as I usually only see the main downtown area when I visit. This experience taught me to explore beyond the familiar, because if I hadn’t, I would have never learned about the culture that Westfield possesses.”
Shelby Carmant '25 said, "Going to the Center for Creativity exhibition really inspired me. Seeing all of these people and places showed me how history is not just what you see in the books, but it is all around you."