Theatrical, Musical Performance to Celebrate Black History Month at Mississippi College
Throughout her college career, Camryn Johnson has enjoyed bringing people together.
The senior math major and servant leadership and educational foundation minor from Byram started the Multicultural Student Association at Mississippi College to promote diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism on the Clinton campus. She serves on MC’s Cross-Cultural Programming Committee, which highlights the many cultures represented at the Christian University. And she has volunteered at her church to coordinate programs and events that celebrate the rich history of African Americans.
“I feel like my biggest mission here at MC is teaching people how to love God and to love one another,” said Johnson, who has served as a student worker in the President’s Office since August 2021. “God made us all different, but we all make up one body. When we recognize one part of the body, it will help us become more knowledgeable about it.
“When we work together, we celebrate what He has made.”
The latest project she has taken on is her most ambitious to date: a multifaceted event to celebrate Black History Month at MC. The epic heroes and defining moments of the African American experience in the U.S. will spring vividly to life during “Celebrating the Black Legacy,” scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24, in Swor Auditorium in Nelson Hall.
Johnson said the production will include a series of live-action theatrical and music performances. Planned for months, it is an expansion of the programs she coordinated at her church, Pentecostal Explosion Ministries in Vicksburg.
“I’ve had experience putting on events to showcase and recognize Black history,” Johnson said. “While there are other Black history programs on campus scheduled throughout the month, this specific program will look more like Swerve, but from a historical perspective.”
Swerve is an annual competition that showcases the dancing talents of MC students. Johnson’s production will include elements of dance, music, and song in a more serious tone as an educational “timeline” of the African American experience.
“It will start in Africa and move through all the major events up to where we are today in society,” she said. “From going through enslavement, to Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era, the Civil Rights Movement, all the way to where we are now.
“We’re telling a story, but we’re not just focused on the horrors – we want to recognize the history, but also celebrate the legacy that has been created and that we carry on today.”
It’s an expansive project, but according to Dr. Melissa Jones, director of paralegal studies and public history in the Department of History and Political Science at MC, if anyone could organize a production of this magnitude, it would be Johnson.
“Cam is the perfect student to be placed in charge of spearheading efforts around honoring Black History Month at MC,” Jones said. “It is a topic and a cause that is near and dear to Cam, and she has been both passionate and sensitive to the fact that students of color on MC’s campus find their sense of place, faith, and family, which can be a different journey than a student who is not of color.
“Cam understands that Black History Month is not just for students of color, but for the MC student body as a whole.”
As a faculty sponsor of the MSA at MC, Dr. Stephanie Carmicle, associate professor of biological sciences, has worked closely with Johnson and praises her resourcefulness.
“Camryn has, from the inception of MSA, worked toward the inclusion of all students on campus,” Carmicle said. “She is the type of leader that sees a community need and then works diligently towards meeting it. Her leadership is thoughtful, intentional, and done with a servant’s heart.”
Jones said she had the privilege of teaching Johnson in a few of her classes, including a Mississippi history course that spanned the pre-European-to-Civil Rights Eras, which proved to be a mutually beneficial experience.
“Cam contributed tremendously to the class and provided perspectives and insights that enabled the entire class and me as her professor to learn from her,” Jones said. “My standout memory from that class was reading Cam’s final book review on a text I assigned on the plight of Black women in the Civil Rights Era in Mississippi and Alabama. It is one of my favorite student papers of all time.”
Fundamental research from that paper will be on full display during the Black History Month program, which will emphasize a group of trailblazers who historically have been too often overlooked: the women of Black history and the Civil Rights Movement.
“We hear about the men – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John Lewis – but a lot of the women behind the scenes and a lot of wives behind the scenes will be highlighted, too,” she said.
The program isn’t Johnson’s only project to support Black History Month at MC this year. She is working with Heather Moore, assistant director of the Leland Speed Library, to create a display of literary achievements by African Americans.
“We’ll probably do two different displays: one with adult books and one with children’s books,” Moore said. “These displays will highlight African American authors and illustrators and/or significant African Americans from Mississippi.”
She said it’s important to include these literary contributions in a well-rounded educational curriculum.
“Representation matters,” Moore said. “I teach this in my class when I talk to my teacher education students about what books they should have in their classroom libraries and should be reading to their future students. It also matters here on campus.
“We all – faculty, staff, and students – need to be reminded of this, and a program like Cam is planning will help do that.”
The Black History Month production’s finale will feature a piece of music that has become very special to Johnson: Glory by Common and John Legend.
“That song speaks to me, talking about one day seeing the manifestation of and the fruit of all the work that has been put into place,” she said. “That will be the entire theme of the program, and will highlight how much we have changed – we’ve come a long way – but also recognize we have a lot of work to do.”
Johnson said the program will be open to everyone, and she hopes MC students will embrace the opportunity to participate and learn more about the African American experience, no matter their personal backgrounds.
“Recognizing our diversity and celebrating Black History Month is not just limited to Black people,” she said. “We all can recognize God has made every last one of us in His image, and when we do that, we can recognize, understand, and love one another.”
For more information or to volunteer to participate in the program, email Johnson at email@example.com.