When members of SA HSLA’s Class of 2024 — who graduated from SA last June — conceptualized, wrote, and produced the first-annual Root Awakening performance several years ago, they probably didn’t realize just how much of a legacy they would leave behind. A vibrant and powerful celebration of diversity, cultural heritage, and scholar talent, the show — which is entirely run by students — took the school by storm from its inception.
Everyone talked about it for weeks after it was unveiled, and multiple SA alumni have returned to participate since then; the performance is frequently applauded as a top highlight of the SA high school experience.
When this year’s seniors Channel Mateo and Brenda Licona-Kumi, and junior Wuraola Adetola were selected to produce the SY20-21 performance, they couldn’t wait to get right to work upholding the tradition of excellence and excitement. Here, content curator Wuraola shares some of her memories from Root Awakening, and reflects on the highs and lows of running a schoolwide performance over Zoom.
By Wuraola Adetola
We thought Root Awakening wasn’t going to happen during the pandemic. The show always brings out the best of our school community; we pack the auditorium and cheer and stomp for our friends, our alumni, and our teachers who express themselves artistically on the stage. How could we possibly replicate that feeling on our computers? At first, I was pretty discouraged by the thought.
But our dance teacher, Ms. Aronowitz, and our dean, Ms. Ramos reminded us that Root Awakening is a school tradition, an important one that puts scholar self-expression and pride in our heritage at the center, and it would really mean a lot to everyone if we could continue it — even though everything would be different this year. Mrs. Aronowitz really played a huge role in helping the show come together.
When Channel, Brenda, and I talked it over, we realized how much the show meant to us our virtual community. Even though our theater productions are always popular and excellent, Root Awakening still stands out because it is completely designed and run by students. It is a chance for us to speak up about our identities, celebrate our cultures, educate each other about our heritage — and just have fun moving, dancing, singing, and speaking together on stage. Even though this couldn’t happen in person, we just had a feeling that we could still make a big impact on our virtual community.
We set to work. We encouraged and directed students to record themselves dancing or representing their culture however they saw fit. We pulled and edited videos from last year’s performance to incorporate and build that feeling of continuity. We solicited our teachers to help spread the news of the show. The three of us had to step into unexpected leadership roles — and it was a team effort. Channel wrote the entire script; I collected, edited, and organized all the content; and Brenda did all the voiceovers and designed the flier.
I didn’t even know Channel and Brenda before we started working on the show, but the experience brought us close together. We learned each other’s thinking processes, and how to defeat the odds and push through in times of struggle. You want to showcase everyone’s talent and culture, but there’s a time limit, and you have to make sure nobody gets bored just watching on a screen — so it’s difficult. Once we had everything in one place, though, it was great to see the result. We hoped this show would still inspire the school community, and bring everyone together the way it had for the three of us.
It wasn’t easy, and a lot of people had doubts about this year’s Root Awakening — including me! Given the pandemic, some students were surprised it was still happening, and others were reluctant to participate because it was yet another thing on Zoom. We had been planning since the summer, so it wasn’t too stressful until a few weeks before the show when things started to feel more real. I was pretty nervous about how everyone would react!
It was hard to bring everyone together and encourage them to get involved, but after the show a lot of people started reaching out to us saying how great it was. People said they enjoyed it, and some students asked how they could get involved for next year. This made me feel great because, in the end, I know that we helped continue this legacy.
I think the pandemic took a toll on a lot of students. People couldn’t see their friends, and students with talents couldn’t dance or sing in person. The fact that we were able to have this show, and include so many students who wanted to show off their talent or culture — it was really important.
This show gives students a voice. School is difficult; there’s not always time to show off what makes you happy or proud. The show gave us a chance to do that. It was a break from school, stress, and the effects of the pandemic just to come back and feel like a school community again, even online.
With this year’s show done, we’re already excited to start brainstorming how to make the next Root Awakening different, and how we can incorporate everyone’s ideas. We’re ready to take on the next challenge.