Stephenson High students wear their pride

Student advisor Vernada Habeeb-Ullah sits with Stephenson High School’s Sankofa Club during “Dashiki Day” for a group picture.Photos by R. Scott Belzer
Student advisor Vernada Habeeb-Ullah sits with Stephenson High School’s Sankofa Club during “Dashiki Day” for a group picture.Photos by R. Scott Belzer

More than 150 Dekalb County high school students, staff and faculty chose to celebrate Black History Month by donning colorful, patterned, loose-fitting clothing.

On Feb. 11, Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain celebrated “Dashiki Day,” where members of the school, ranging from students to the principal, dressed in pullover garments known as dashikis. Though widely popular in west Africa, the garments found popularity in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, sporting colors and patterns reminiscent of the continent.

Dashikis were sold by student advisor and Dashiki Day founder Vernada Habeeb-ullah, who heads the school’s Sankofa Club. The club meets every week to discuss Black history, pride and heritage, a theme that spread to the day’s overall message.

“During the ‘60s, dashikis meant so much – they meant pride,” Habeeb-ullah said. “I wanted the kids to love themselves and each other instead of turning on each other. [Students] need to understand where we’ve been. I want students to get back to that pride.”

The advisor said such pride was evident the moment dashikis were put on.

“When they put them on, it’s like they’re transformed,” Habeeb-ullah said. “When you put on a suit, how do you feel? When you put on something that’s related to your culture, you feel connected. You feel connected to a sense of history.”

Habeeb-ullah went on to explain how Sankofa Club focuses on honoring Black history throughout the year rather than limiting the practice to February.

Some students at Stephenson seemed thrilled at the thought of learning more about who they are and where the culture they come from.

“Sankofa Club basically represents looking at your past in order to move forward with your future,” said Folake Shonekae, a senior at Stephenson and member of Sankofa Club. “It’s about getting connected with your roots.”

Principal Michael Jones and members of Stephenson High School’s Sankofa Club give the “Black Power” salute during “Dashiki Day.”
Principal Michael Jones and members of Stephenson High School’s Sankofa Club give the “Black Power” salute during “Dashiki Day.”

According to Rasheed Tillman, another senior and club member at Stephenson High, the wearing of a dashiki is a source of pride and unity.

“The dashiki shows unity among our race right now,” Tillman said. “It helps uplift our race.”
More than 100 Sankofa Club members gathered on the morning of Feb. 11 for a group picture in the school’s auditorium. According to Habeeb-ullah, approximately 50 more staff members throughout the school were wearing dashikis.

“There are probably around 150 throughout the school,” the advisor said. “A lot of them couldn’t get out of class because they’re teaching, so we’ll get their picture after school.”

Principal Michael Jones was among the staff members wearing a dashiki. His, like many students’ garb, matched Stephenson High’s blue, black-and-white school colors.

“Wearing the dashikis is a tribute to the past. It’s about not just recognizing the past but realizing what we can do in the future,” Jones said. “The dashiki represents the heritage, the struggle and hope for the future for our people.”

For more information on Stephenson High School and Sankofa Club, visit www.stephensonhs.dekalb.k12.ga.us/stephensonhighschool_home.aspx or call (678) 676-4202.

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