African-American History Comes to Life at Polk State Lakeland Event

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

A few days ago, Kadaijah Simpson didn’t know much about influential actress Dorothy Dandridge, and she figured her fellow students knew even less.

That’s why Simpson decided to portray Dandridge — the first African-American actress ever nominated for an Academy Award — during Polk State Lakeland’s “Who Am I?” event Tuesday.

“People had told me I resemble her because of my hair and skin tone,” said Simpson, 19, a resident of Lakeland, who is pursuing her Associate in Arts degree.

“But that’s all I knew about her. I didn’t know what an impact she had made. As I learned more about her, I wanted to share what I was learning. During Black History Month, we always hear about Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X, but she’s someone who did a lot of great things, too.”

Simpson was one of nearly two-dozen students, faculty and staff members who dressed as influential African-Americans for the “Who Am I?” event, which was sponsored by the Black Student Union and Polk State Lakeland SALO and moderated by English Professor Orathai Northern.

In addition to their attire, participants gave clues about the identities of the history-makers they were portraying. Attendees who deciphered all the clues correctly were entered to win a prize.

Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sidney Poitier, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois — they were just a few of the personalities that came to life on Tuesday. Students in attendance sometimes raised their hands almost immediately, other times they were genuinely stumped.

By the end of the afternoon, the students — both those in the audience and those in costume — had gained deeper appreciation for the contributions of influential African-Americans. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X certainly made their mark, but there were countless others — like Dandridge — who should be remembered, too.

“A lot of the students who came discovered parts of African-American history that they never even knew existed,” said Yulonda Bell, assistant registrar at Polk State Lakeland and adviser of Black Student Union. “It was inspiring to watch them gain new insight to African-American history, and learn things they might otherwise never have.”

The College’s Black History Month celebration continues through February. Upcoming events include:

Scavenger Hunt and Trivia
Polk State Winter Haven Student Center
Feb. 20
Noon to 4 p.m.

Racism Symposium
Polk State Lakeland — LLC Auditorium
Feb. 25
3 to 5 p.m.

Screening of The Great Debaters
Polk State Lakeland — LAC 1133
Feb. 25
6 to 8 p.m.

West African Percussion Concert
Featuring Weedie Braimah and Amadou Kouyate
Polk State JD Alexander Center
Feb. 26
Noon to 1 p.m.

Screening of The Butler
Polk State Winter Haven — WLR 108
Feb. 28
6 to 8 p.m.

West African Percussion Master Drum and Dance Class
Featuring Weedie Braimah and Amadou Kouyate
Polk State Lake Wales Arts Center
March 1
10 a.m.

West African Percussion Concert
Featuring Weedie Braimah and Amadou Kouyate
Polk State Lake Wales Arts Center
March 1
7 to 9 p.m.

Black Student Union is one of more than 50 clubs and organizations offered through Polk State’s Student Activities and Leadership Office (SALO). In addition to clubs, SALO offers students opportunities to participate in activities and events, engage in community education, play in intramural sports and serve on college-wide committees.