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West Charlotte High School students picked for EduHam
Sally Hemings' story earned stage production
Published Thursday, November 1, 2018 1:32 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

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“Hamilton” is more than a musical.

The 11-time Tony Award-winning production concluded its final week in Charlotte with the Hamilton Education Initiative (EduHam). Two thousand students and teachers from 22 high schools across the Southeast participated in the region’s first EduHam—one of 14 throughout the nation. Five Charlotte-Mecklenburg Title I high schools participated in the program—Vance, Garinger, Harding University, West Charlotte and West Mecklenburg.

While students from all five schools experienced the 14-student performance for a Hamilton each – $10 – and participated in a Q&A with the cast, only West Charlotte was selected to perform. Senior IB students Kaycee Hailey, Shazaria Hoover and Kaliyah Landrum performed their original creation: “Hemings: Slave Woman” which told the story of Sally Hemings, who was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson, and had several children with him.

West Charlotte High School students Shazaria Hoover, Kaliyah Landrum and Kaycee Hailey performed a piece on Sally Hemings as part of the EduHam initiative.

“When we decided that we were going to write about Sally Hemings and her family, I immediately was like, ‘we need the violin,’” said Hailey, who played the instrument throughout their performance. “That’s an important part, because the children she had with Thomas Jefferson, he taught all of his sons how to play violin. That was one of the few ways that they really bonded.”

The student actors wanted to highlight the role women of color during the era.

“We really wanted to talk about a woman,” Hailey said. “Women’s stories go really untold in history, even today. We wanted to do a woman color who was relevant during this time period, relevant to the founding fathers. It was a pretty easy decision to do Sally Hemings.”

Said Landrum: “At times it was very stressful, but we wanted to get it right. We wanted the audience to really feel what we were trying to say, but it was really fun.”

West Charlotte students learned of their selection to perform during EduHam two days after they submitted a video. However, Hoover almost backed out.

“At first I didn’t want to perform,” she said. “They were going to have someone take my spot, but I was convinced to do it. Now I’m here.”

Juggling college applications and a new job contributed to Hoover’s apprehension of adding something else to an already full plate.

“October was a really stressful month,” she said. “I was trying to balance all of that in my schedule, but I somehow managed to fit [EduHam] in.”

EduHam curriculum typically targets history classes, but West Charlotte incorporated it into English classrooms as well.

“I taught it in my class,” said 9-12 IB English teacher Ladawna Robinson, who has been at West Charlotte for eight years. “We talked about characterization and tone with the founding fathers. The three young ladies worked hard writing this. Each of them took a piece and wrote about Sally, because we don’t really hear too much about her. It’s been an awesome journey. Believe it or not, they are really shy, so this was a big accomplishment for them. Just to see them feel accomplished, it’s just great.”

“Hamilton” offers an experience unlike any other production. Since opening in Charlotte on Oct. 10, the cast and crew have helped people register to vote, held master dance classes throughout the area and participated in EduHam. It represents something that EduHam emcee and “Hamilton” cast member Tyler McKenzie never imagined would exist. A Charlotte native, he represents the first graduating class from Central Academy of Arts and Technology in Monroe—Union County’s first magnet high school.

“I owe it all to ‘Hamilton,’ not only for being what it is during the show every single night, but also just a huge platform that I can use to reach young artists, students and community,” McKenzie said. “It is so much bigger than a show at night. It is now in public schools. It gives so much money to charities. It also creates a platform for artists like us who are in the show to go out and do a lot of outreach. I totally realized just now how big of a mecca it is, other than simply being a show that was written that has great music. It is a platform for so much positivity, outreach and community.”

Said Northwest School of the Arts alumnus and “Hamilton” cast member Tre Smith: “I just see the hunger and the drive these young individuals have, especially being influenced by ‘Hamilton.’ They make sure that their voice is heard, and the way that they want us to perceive them—whether it is rap music, poetry, spoken word, dances, skits—you see them totally express themselves. That is the special part about it.”

EduHam is a collaboration between the musical’s producers, the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Miranda family. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the Tony Award-winning lyricist, composer and author of the Broadway hit.

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